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Full text of "Without A Stitch In Time A Selection Of The Best Humorous Short Pieces"

Peter De Vries has been writing short comic 
pieces for thirty years. This is the cream of the 
crop. It includes his choicest work since NO BUT 
I SAW THE MOVIE, plus the durable best of that 
earlier collection, too long out of print for his 
many fans. 

The result seems to us notable for variety as 
well as quality. Here are fictional comedies of 
manners; balmy reminiscences; the more vinai- 
grette satires of social and domestic crisis or 
folly; and some of the best parodies around 
these ranging in turn from the classic Faulkner 
sendup to the one in which he turns Ring Lardner 
loose on Little League baseball. 

A few of the stories destined to become chap- 
ters in the comic novels, on which his reputation 
now mainly rests, are obligatory in the kind of 
omnibus in which readers will look for their old 
favorites among all the new entries. WITHOUT 
A STITCH IN TIME is thus the winnowed best of a 
writer who himself ranks among those prose 
comedians who continue to renew our assurance 
that humor is still, thank God, one of America's 
chief natural resources. 



WITHOUT A STITCH IN TIME 



WITHOUT A 
STITCH IN TIME 

A selECTioN of rk BEST HUMOROUS shoRT PIECES 

by PETER de VRIES 

LlTTU, bftOWN ANd COMpANy-boSTOW-TOHONT0 



Copyright 1943, 1946, 1947, 1948, *949> J 95^ r 95 r i *95 2 i *953 

1954, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 

1972 by Peter De Vries 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY RE REPRODUCED 
IN ANY FORM OR BY ANY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL MEANS IN- 
CLUDING INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS WITHOUT 
PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER 
WHO MAY QUOTE BRIEF PASSAGES IN A REVIEW. 

FIRST EDITION 
T 10/72 

Most of the material in this book was originally published in 
The New Yorker. "Part of the Family Picture" appeared in 
Harpers Magazine; "The Last of the Bluenoses" in The London 
Daily Telegraph; "Exploring Inner Space" in Michigan Quarterly 
Review; "Mud in Your Eye" in The New York Times Book 
Review; "James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock" in Poetry Mag- 
azine; "The Man Who Read Waugh" in Saturday Review. 



Library o f Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

De Vries, Peter. 

Without a stitch in time. 

Short stories. 

I. Title. 

PZ3 * D499SWi 813 ' - 5 ' 2 72-5163 
ISBN 0-316-18186-2 



Published simultaneously in Canada 
by Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



CONTENTS 

A Hard Day at the Office 3 

Slice of Life 6 

Flesh and the Devil 14 

Mud in Your Eye 21 

Afternoon of a Faun 24 

Interior with Figures 38 

Good Boy 42 

Tulip 4^ 

Every Leave That Falls S3 

Compulsion 63 

Scene 69 

A Crying Need 74 

In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Loivenbrau 82 

The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, I'm Explicating 89 

The Independent Voter at Twilight 95 

The Conversational Ball 102 

Adventures of a People Buff 108 

Heart 115 

Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 124 

The House of Mirth 130 

Split-level 13$ 

Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold 146 

From There to Infinity 150 

Overture 1 57 

Reuben, Reuben 162 

vii 



Contents 

Touch and Go 169 

Fall Guy 777 

You and Who Else? i$6 

Nobody's Fool 194 

Block 200 

Double or Nothing 208 

Journey to the Center of the Roo??z 215 

Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 220 

The Man Who Read Waugh 228 
The Art of Setf -dramatization; or, ForiDard "from 

Schrecklichkeit 234 

The Children's Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda 240 

The Irony of It All 246 

Laughter in the Basement 257 

Part of the Family Picture 263 

You Know Me Alice 275 
A Walk in the Country; or, HOID to Keep Fit to Be 

Tied 282 

The Last of the Bluenoses 2 S8 

Scones and Stones 2 02 

Forever Panting 2 ^ 

James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock 3O4 

Exploring Inner Space 12 



vm 



WITHOUT A STITCH IN TIME 



A HARD DAY AT THE OFFICE 

I RECENTLY worked in an office where they had a number of 
those signs reading "Think," the motto of the International 
Business Machines Corporation, which so many other business 
firms seem to be adopting. The signs became almost at once 
a bone of contention between my employer and me, though 
not because I was not responsive to them; I have always re- 
acted unqualifiedly to wall injunctions, especially the mono- 
syllabic kind. Confronted, for example, with the exhortation 
"Smile," my face becomes wreathed in an expression of felic- 
ity that some people find unendurable, and as for "Keep On 
Keepin' On," I mean like one gander at it and it's "Oh, I will, 
I will!" The "Think" signs, one of which was visible from 
my desk, so I saw it every time I raised my head, were equally 
effective. As a consequence, by midmorning of my first day 
on the job I was so immersed in rumination that the boss, a 
ruddy, heavyset fellow named Harry Bagley, paused on his 
way past my desk, evidently struck by a remote and glazed 
look in my eye. 

"What's the matter with you?" he asked. 

"I was just thinking," I said, stirring from my concentra- 
tion. 

"What about?" 

"Zeno's paradoxes," I answered. "The eight paradoxes by 
which he tries to discredit the belief in plurality and motion, 
and which have come down to us in the writings of Aristotle 
and Simplicius. I was recalling particularly the one about 
Achilles and the tortoise. You remember it. Achilles can 
never catch up with the tortoise for, while he traverses the 
distance between his starting point and that of the tortoise, 



A Hard Day at the Office 

the tortoise advances a certain distance, and while Achilles 
traverses this distance, the tortoise makes a further advance, 
and so on ad infinitum. Consequently, Achilles may run ad 
infinitum without overtaking the tortoise. Ergo there is no 
motion." 

"A fat hell of a lot of good this is doing us/' Bagley said. 

"Oh, I know Zeno's old hat and, as you say, fruitless from 
a practical point of view," I said. "But here's the thought I 
want to leave with you. It's amazing how many of our values 
are still based on this classic logic, and so maybe the seman- 
ticists, under Korzybski and later Hayakawa, have been right 
in hammering home to us a less absolutistic approach to 
things." 

"Yes, well, get some of this work off your desk," Bagley 
said, gesturing at a mulch of documents that had been thick- 
ening there since nine o'clock. 

"Right," I said, and he bustled off. 

I fell to with a will, and by noon was pretty well caught 
up. But as I sat down at my desk after lunch, my eye fell on 
the admonitory legend dominating the opposite wall, and I 
was soon again deep in a train of reflections, which, while 
lacking the abstruseness of my morning cogitations, were 
nevertheless not wholly without scope and erudition. My face 
must have betrayed the strain of application once more, for 
Bagley stopped as he had earlier. 

"Now what?" he said. 

I put down a paper knife I had been abstractedly bending. 

"I've been thinking," I said, "that the element of the fan- 
tastic in the graphic arts is, historically speaking, so volumi- 
nous that it's presumptuous of the Surrealists to pretend that 
they have any more than given a contemporary label to an 
established, if not indeed hoary, vein. Take the chimerical 



A Hard Day at the Office 

detail in much Flemish and Renaissance painting, the dry, 
horrifying apparitions of Hieronymus Bosch " 

"Get your money," Bagley said. 

"But why? What am I doing but what that sign says?" I 
protested, pointing to it. 

"That sign doesn't mean this kind of thinking," Bagley said. 

"What kind, then? What do you want me to think about?" 
I asked. 

"Think about your work. Think about the product. Any- 
thing." 

"All right, I'll try that," I said. "I'll try thinking about the 
product. But which one?" I added, for the firm was a whole- 
sale-food company that handled many kinds of foods. I was at 
pains to remind Bagley of this. "So shall I think of food in 
general, or some particular item?" I asked. "Or some phase 
of distribution?" 

"Oh, good God, I don't know," Bagley said impatiently. 
"Think of the special we're pushing," he said, and made off. 

The special we were pushing just then was packaged mixed 
nuts, unshelled. The firm had been trying to ascertain what 
proportions people liked in mixed nuts what ratio of wal- 
nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and so on as reflected in relative 
sales of varying assortments that the company had been 
simultaneously putting out in different areas. I didn't see how 
any thinking on my part could help reach any conclusion 
about that, the more so because my work, which was check- 
ing and collating credit memoranda, offered no data along 
those lines. So I figured the best thing would be for me to 
dwell on nuts in a general way, which I did. 

Shortly after four o'clock, I was aware of Bagley's bulk 
over me, and of Bagley looking down at me. "Well?" he said. 
I turned to him in my swivel chair, crossing my legs. 
"Nuts, it seems to me, have a quality that makes them 



Slice of Life 

unique among foods," I said. "I'm not thinking of their more 
obvious aspect as an autumnal symbol, their poetic association 
with festive periods. They have something else, a je ne sais 
quoi that has often haunted me while eating them but that I 
have never quite been able to pin down, despite that effort 
of imaginative physical identification that is the legitimate 
province of the senses." 

"You're wearing me thin," Bagley warned. 

"But now I think I've put my finger on the curious quality 
they have," I said. "Nuts are in effect edible wood" 

"Get your money," Bagley said. 

I rose. "I don't understand what you want," I exclaimed. 
"Granted the observation is a trifle on the precious side, is 
that any reason for firing a man? Give me a little time." 

"You've got an hour till quitting time. Your money'll be 
ready then," Bagley said. 

My money was ready by quitting time. As I took it, I re- 
flected that my wages from this firm consisted almost ex- 
clusively of severance pay. Bagley had beefed about having 
to fork over two weeks' compensation, but he forked it over. 

I got another job soon afterward. I still have it. It's with an 
outfit that doesn't expect you to smile or think or anything 
like that. Anyhow, I've learned my lesson as far as the second 
is concerned. If I'm ever again confronted with a sign telling 
me to think, I'll damn well think twice before I do. 



SLICE OF LIFE 

WHEN the elevator in which I had been mounting to my 
thirtieth-floor office after lunch stopped between the eleventh 

6 



Slice of Life 

and twelfth floors, it stopped cold. The operator shoved his 
lever back and forth several times, but the car wouldn't go 
up or down. "Broke," he announced to me and my four 
fellow-passengers. 

There followed fifteen minutes of diagnostic bawling up 
and down the shaft between the operator and some unseen 
colleagues, and then certain rumblings and clankings com- 
menced overhead and underneath, which I took to be reme- 
dial. The operator folded a stick of Juicy Fruit into his mouth 
and said, "It looks as if we'll be here for a while." 

"How long?" demanded a rectangular woman of forty, in 
snuff-colored tweeds and a brown corduroy hat of Alpine 
extraction. 

"That's hard to say. They've got to rimify the bandelage 
that goes around the grims, then marinate the horpels on the 
rebrifuge," the operator said or words to that effect. 

"Damn!" said a thickset man, clearly an executive type, 
who was clutching a briefcase. I seemed to remember seeing 
pictures of him in the business sections of the metropolitan 
dailies. His name was Babcock or Shotwell or something. He 
and Tweeds were duplicates of impatience; she consulted a 
wristwatch in an absolute fume. "How long do you think it 
might be?" she inquired of the operator. "Hours?" 

He shrugged and smiled. 

"Or days," threw in a tall youth, grinning. He leaned, hat- 
less and negligent, 'against a wall of the car, reading an aca- 
demic periodical. 

"Well, it might as well be days if it's anything more than" 
Tweeds shot back a cuff and glared anew at the watch 
"than half an hour." 

"Me, too," said the executive. "I've got a conference start- 
ing in ten minutes that positively cannot be postponed" 

"I have a lecture audience gathering two blocks away this 



Slice of Life 

very minute," Tweeds said. "Oh, why did I have to pop in 
here first? Are they doing all they can?" 

"Probably," said a handsome woman, brushing from her 
shoulder a pinch of rust that had sifted down through the 
ventilation louvers in the ceiling of the car. She was wearing 
a black suit and what seemed like a series of scarves. The 
operator had offered her his seat, on which she sat with her 
legs primly crossed. 

Such, then, was our cast of characters: a big shot, a lady 
lecturer, a casual youth, an enigmatic woman in black, an 
elevator operator, and myself, an office worker. In other 
words, what you always get in a group thrown together in a 
snowbound train or a marooned cabin or a petrified forest 
a slice of life. 

As the minutes passed into an hour and the hour became 
two, I marked the rate of attrition on each of my co-victims. 
I knew that in a slice of life the crisis into which the charac- 
ters are suddenly thrust affects each according to his inner 
self, which he thereafter faces with a new, and deeper, under- 
standing. His whole life will be changed by the experience. 
But first he must be broken open. 

Shotwell or Babcock was the first to give. After watching 
him fidget for some minutes, I went over to him and said, 
"Why are you in such a stew to get to this meeting?" 

"I have to," he said. "When I'm out of the office, every- 
thing goes to " 

"That's what you like to think" I smiled cannily. 

"What do you mean?" he asked, avoiding my eyes. 

"In how many years haven't you taken a vacation?" 

"Fourteen," he said, momentarily squaring his shoulders. 

"Fourteen years you haven't dared to leave town for fear 
everything would go on running as smooth as " 

"That's a lie!" 

" as silk. It wasn't the other way around, as you've always 

8 



Slice of Life 

tried to make everybody believe, especially yourself. Oh, 
everything's going all right up there," I said, following his 
panicky glance upward. 

"It isn't, either! It's not true!" he said. Dropping his brief- 
case, he seized the bars of the car door in both hands and, 
rattling it like a caged beast, bellowed to be let out. He was 
due at a think tank. 

I sprang swiftly into action. Swinging him around by the 
coat collar, I slapped him smartly across the chops several 
times. This brought shocked stares from the rest, but they 
must instantly have realized my action to be the attested one 
for staunching hysteria in situations of this kind, for no one 
spoke. "It is the irony of power that those who wield it be- 
come its victims, dependent on it themselves," I told the mag- 
nate when I had brought him back to his senses. "If this 
experience helps you put away false pride, it will have proved 
a blessing in disguise. Learn that no one is indispensable and 
find an enriching sense of the value of others." 

I left the executive slumped on the floor, dazedly ponder- 
ing my counsel, and slipped over to have a word with 
Tweeds. She was sitting on the floor herself by now, "I 
wonder how -long they'll wait for me," she asked herself 
aloud. 

"Forget it. They've gone home," I said. "It's two hours." 

"They can't have gone. It was to be my most important 
lecture of the year." 

"Important to whom?" I said, letting myself down beside 
her with the expression of stolid yet sensitive understanding 
of one from whom strength naturally flows. In low, con- 
fidential tones, I went on, "What hurts is the thought of their 
going home, or maybe off to a movie, without feeling they've 
missed much idle women who came to hear you because 
they had nothing better to do. So it's they who are important 
to you." 



Slice of Life 

"Of all the unmitigated " 

"That's the discovery you get out of this/' I said. "Take 
that chastening thought home with you and rebuild your life 
on its hard, firm knowledge a knowledge without illusions 
but capable of giving you wider horizons. Egotism is the pup 
tent that shuts out the sky" 

I slid a bit away from Tweeds, who had raised her fist as 
if to ward off an inclement truth, and now paused in my 
ministrations to smoke a cigarette. I did not,, however, relax 
my lookout for fissures in the composure of my remaining 
companions. I puzzled a moment over the aloof air main- 
tained by the slender woman in black. Then I had it. Of 
course. Every slice of life has a prostitute, or at least a woman 
of easy virtue, and she, in turn, would not be complete as a 
character if she did not live this one hour behind a mask of 
cool propriety. Well, her secret was safe with me. Extinguish- 
ing my cigarette on the sole of my shoe, I rose from the 
floor and drifted unobtrusively to her side. 

"Crisis is the great leveler," I observed, in a cordial under- 
tone. "You, of all of us, may depart in peace." 

"Go boil a banana," she said. 

The acidity of her retort only proved to me that my 
message had gone home; naturally, I did not forget that such 
a hard shell as hers concealed the more a heart of gold. No, 
it was the youth I had to worry about for his insouciance 
had not fooled me for a second. It was the calm of profound 
fear. His secret came to me in a flash. He had to prove he 
wasn't a coward. How could I have missed it until now? In 
any case, I admired his game to appear cool as a cucumber 
while the implacable hammers flattened our brains and the 
corrosive minutes wore away but I knew it couldn't last. It 
was time I gave him a bit of myself. 

"Would you like to talk about it?" I said, inviting his con- 
fidence with a sympathetic smile. "Go back as far as you like 

10 



Slice of Life 

to your childhood, to how it all got started. For the crust 
is never so hard that it can't be beaten back into a batter if 
we have the will" 

He gave me a look and, pocketing the quarterly (in which 
he had all this time affected to remain immersed!), drew out 
a document typewritten in a language I did not recognize. 

"Ah, the intellectual, with his Sanskrit, Phoenician, and 
the dialects of the Ozarks," I said. "Well, that's all right. Each 
of us has his defense against the world. Student?" 

"I'm writing my doctor's thesis," he said. 

"Why can't your doctor write his own thesis?" I said, 
beaming at the others, for it was time for some comedy relief. 
The uniform grimness of their faces told me how long past 
due this relief was, and I redoubled my efforts. 

"Seems there were these two Swedes," I said, "who went 
out fishing on this lake in this rowboat. So they pulled in fish 
like they never had before. Soon the whole boat was full of 
fish, and the first Swede said to the second, Say, Olie, we 
sure got goot place today. By Yiminy, we ought to remem- 
ber this spot in the lake, so we can come hair next time, 'cause 
this yim-dandy ' " 

Here the youth cracked. "How much are flesh and blood 
supposed to stand!" he yelled, rattling the door of the car 
even more furiously than the executive had. "Are we going 
to stay in this godforsaken trap forever?" 

Wrenching him back from the door, I pinned him against 
the side of the car and continued rapidly, "And -the second 
Swede said, 'By Yeorge, you right, Sven. We yust got to 
remember this hair spot. Lucky thing Ay got piece of chalk 
in my pocket. Ay make mark so we can tell this place next 
time.' And he reached over and drew a line on the outside 
of the rowboat." 

Clawing free of my grasp, the youth put his hands to my 
throat in an apparent attempt to throttle me. The situation 

n 



Slice of Life 

was more serious than I had thought. Flinging him back 
against the wall again with all my strength, I planted my 
knee in his groin and panted, "And the first Swede said, 
'Olie, how can you be so dumb? What good it bane do us to 
make a mark on the rowboat? What if we don't get the same 
rowboat next time?' " 

I released the youth, and we stood a moment straightening 
our clothes, breathing heavily. There was a cascade of male- 
diction from above, and a large clump of matter struck the 
ventilation louvers in such a way as to baptize the majority 
of us with dark silt. Events were moving swiftly to their 
climax. I gave the youth a grin of new understanding, and 
then, shaking a cigarette out of a pack, hung it in his mouth. 
I extended a light to him, striking the match on my thumb- 
nail. "It's no crime to be afraid," I said, for everyone's benefit. 

The woman in black dropped her head in her hand and 
said, "God." 

I stepped over and addressed her softly. "I know. The 
snow of the apple blossoms in the spring, the white rose of 
winter snows to think you will never see these again. But 
you will. We'll get out of this, and everything out there 
will seem dearer. That's the great value of an experience like 
this. We come out of it better able to use the words with 
which the poet exhorts us to love that well which we must 
leave ere long." 

The elevator operator was circling the car, swiveling a fist 
against his palm. "Judas priest," he muttered under his breath. 
Was he going next? I saw him wet his lips and heard him 
shout rather shrilly up the shaft, "When are you guys ever 
going to get done?" 

"Done now," the answer floated down. "See if she works." 

She worked. 

And now, the passengers having stirred from their several 
funks and lethargies, and readied themselves for restoration 



12 



Slice of Life 

to the normal world, we resumed our interrupted journey. 
The woman in black and the youth got off at the same floor, 
one occupied largely by dentists 7 offices. The two of them 
struck up a conversation as the elevator door closed behind 
them, the woman glancing momentarily back at me. A spring- 
ing acquaintance? New beginnings . . . ? Tweeds and the 
tycoon got off at their respective stops. And all, on leaving, 
thanked me (there was no other way of interpreting their 
parting looks and indistinguishable murmurs as they went 
past me) for my firm and masterly handling of the situation. 

Well, the incident of the stalled car was the talk of the 
building for some days. Few mentioned it to me directly, but 
this I laid to their assumption that I might not like to talk 
about it. However, I did not doubt that some note of my role 
in the matter would be taken in my office. 

I was right. My next salary check was three times its regu- 
lar size. I had not expected to be rewarded on that scale! 
There was a brief communication accompanying it, which I 
unfolded and read: "The recent incident with regard to the 
broken elevator has come to our attention. The report shows 
the elevator to have become stalled at 1:07 o'clock, and you 
were known to have left the building on your lunch hour at 
a quarter to twelve. This office takes the term 'lunch hour' to 
mean precisely that sixty minutes but you apparently pre- 
fer to regard it as any length of time suitable to yourself. 
Since this has been a continuing offense in your case, we sug- 
gest you look for a corporation less interested than we in how 
you spend the middle of the day. Your services are no longer 
required, effective today. We are enclosing with your salary 
two weeks' severance pay." 

And that's how my whole life was changed by the experi- 
ence. 



FLESH AND THE DEVIL 

THE OFFICE where Frisbie worked as vice-president in charge 
of purchases had its Christmas party a week early, because 
the head of the corporation was leaving for Miami, but other- 
wise it was like any other Christmas party. Everyone stood 
around self-consciously at first, drinking whiskey from paper 
cups, then bandied intramural jokes as the liquor thawed 
them, and ended up by slinging arms around one another in 
general camaraderie. Frisbie found himself dancing (to music 
from a radio that had been left in the office since the World 
Series) with a Mrs. Diblanda, hired temporarily for the 
Christmas rush. He left with Mrs. Diblanda when the party 
broke up, and they stopped at a neighboring bar for another 
drink. Frisbie had told his wife not to figure on him for din- 
ner, as there was no way of knowing how long the party 
would last or how substantial the refreshments would be. 
There had been loads of canapes, so little edge was left on his 
appetite, but when, calling a cab, he offered to drop Mrs. 
Diblanda off at her apartment and she invited him up for a 
last drink and maybe a bite of supper, he accepted. They had 
a couple of drinks, and then quite naturally, it seemed 
Frisbie kissed her. Mrs. Diblanda, a divorced woman of about 
thirty who lived alone, transmitted a clear sense of readiness 
for anything, but just at that moment the image of Mrs. Fris- 
bie interposed itself between him and Mrs. Diblanda, and he 
rose, got his hat and coat, excused himself, and left. 

Now, this forbearance struck Frisbie as a fine thing. How 
many men he knew fellows at the office, say tempted by 
an isolated pleasure that could have been enjoyed and forgot- 



Flesh and the Devil 

ten with no complications whatever, would have denied them- 
selves? Damn few, probably. The more he thought of it the 
more gratifying his conduct seemed, and, presently, the more 
his satisfaction struck him as worth sharing with his wife, not 
for the light the incident put him in but as a certification of 
their bond. Superimposed upon the good spirits in which the 
drinks had left him, his moral exhilaration mounted. There 
were no cabs outside Mrs. Diblanda's apartment house, and, 
hurrying on foot through a cool, needling drizzle that he 
found ravishing to his face, Frisbie tried to put himself in a 
woman's place, and couldn't imagine a wife not grateful for 
the knowledge of her husband's loyalty. By the time he 
reached home, he had decided to tell Mrs. Frisbie of his. 

It was twenty minutes to ten when Frisbie entered the 
house. He greeted his wife with a jovial hoot from the hall 
when she called from upstairs to ask if it was he. He hung 
up his coat and hat and went on up to the bedroom, where 
Mrs. Frisbie was sitting in bed, filing her fingernails with an 
emery board. He answered a few questions about what the 
party had been like, and then took off his coat and vest and 
carried them into his closet. "Guess what," he said from there. 
"I had a chance to have an affair." 

The sound of the emery board, which he could hear be- 
hind him, stopped, then resumed more slowly. "I say I had a 
chance to sleep with someone. A woman," he said. He reached 
for a wire hanger and knocked two or three to the floor in a 
tangle. He stooped to retrieve one, slipped his coat and vest 
onto it, and hung them up. "But I declined," he said, attempt- 
ing to strike a humorous note. 

The sound of the emery board stopped altogether. "Who's 
the woman?" Mrs. Frisbie asked in a tone slightly lower than 
normal. 

"I don't see what difference that makes," Frisbie said. "All 



Flesh and the Devil 

I'm saying is there was this woman I didn't sleep with. I just 
have an idea lots of men would have." 

"Anyone I know?" she persisted. 

"No," he said, looking at her around the edge of the closet 
door. "It's no matter. As I say, I got on my bike." 

Mrs. Frisbie had been looking at the door with her eyes 
raised but with her head still bent over the emery board. Now 
she lifted her head. Her gray eyes were flat and opaque. She 
hitched herself up against her propped pillow and said, 
"Where?" 

Frisbie's elation had worn off, leaving him with a feeling of 
having stepped out on a high wire on which going ahead 
might be difficult but turning around impossible. 

"Where what?" he asked, taking off his tie and hanging it 
on a rack fastened to the inside of the closet door. 

"Where didn't you sleep with her?" 

Frisbie drew off his pants and overturned them. Clamping 
the cuffs under his chin, he lined up the creases and let the 
legs drop over. "In her apartment," he said, slipping the 
doubled trousers on a hanger and hanging them up. He took 
off his shoes and set them outside the closet door, finished 
undressing, and got into a pair of pajamas. His wife put the 
emery board on the nightstand beside her and thoughtfully 
shook a cigarette out of a pack. Frisbie stayed awhile in the 
closet, smoothing down the sleeves of hanging coats and mak- 
ing a check of the garments suspended there. "Two of these 
suits need cleaning," he said, emerging. 

His wife struck a match and lit the cigarette. "How did you 
find out you could sleep with her?" she asked. 

A filament of anger began to glow inside Frisbie. "Just a 
while ago," he said. 

"Not when how. How did you find out you could?" 

"What's the difference?" he said, kicking his shoes into a 
corner. 

16 



Flesh and the Devil 

"You were up in a woman's apartment with her," Mrs. 
Frisbie said. "It was probably somebody from the office. You 
took her home and went up to her flat." Her hopeless failure 
to see the gay extemporaneky of all this galled Frisbie, filling 
him with resentment. The cold resume continued. "You were 
drinking. You reached a point where you could have slept 
with her, which couldn't come out of a clear sky but had 
things leading up to it. What?" 

"If you must know, I kissed her!" Frisbie said, well above 
his ordinary tone. 

His wife threw back the covers and got out of bed, punch- 
ing her cigarette out in an ashtray on her night table. She 
picked up a dressing gown from a chair, slipped into it, and 
thrust her feet into a pair of mules. Frisbie stood watching 
these movements as though mesmerized. "It didn't go any 
further," he said. 

She knotted the cord of her robe and drew it tight. "Come 
on downstairs," she said. "Well talk about it there." 

Frisbie followed his wife down the stairs, drawing on a 
warm robe of his own, for the house seemed suddenly chilly. 
"Don't I get any credit?" he protested. She marched on, her 
mules making a scuffing thud on the carpeted steps. "I mean 
there in my mind's eye was your face," he said. "The minute 
I kissed her, I knew I couldn't go whole hog." 

"Fix a drink," his wife said, turning into the living room. 

"Right." 

Frisbie went to the cellarette. He had the illusion that it 
was the dead of night. The ice cubes clacked idiotically into 
the glasses. He mixed Scotch-and-sodas for both of them. Be- 
hind him, he knew, his wife was sitting erect in the middle of 
the sofa, her knees together and her hands in her lap, looking 
across the room. "Isn't there a French proverb 'A stumble 

'7 



Flesh and the Devil 

may prevent a fall'?" he asked, and a moment later, "Who 
said, 'Women are not seduced, men are elected'? Somebody." 

These remarks were made with no great thought of carry- 
ing weight, but were pasted flat on the silence 1 like decal- 
comania. Frisbie handed his wife a Scotch-and-soda, and she 
took several swallows and set the glass down on an end table. 

"Now, then," she said, "how did it all get started? What 
has there been between you?" 

"Nothing, really," he said, picking up his drink from the 
cellarette. He had meant the "really" as an emphasis, but he 
realized that it came out as a kind of qualification, making 
a total hash of his position. He walked to the mantel and 
stood there. "You're not looking at this thing right," he 
said. "Think of it just as the tail end of an office party 
and you know what they're like. People kissing one an- 
other you'd never dream of." He gave a little reminiscent 
laugh. "Funny I mean, to stand off and watch all that, 
which has no connection with their daily lives. Clarke, there, 
with his arm around his secretary, kissing her. Old H. Denim 
smacking everybody in sight." 

"Smacking everybody is different." 

"I kissed others." 

It made no sense. They had simply floated off on a cake of 
ice, Frisbie thought, into a sea of absurdity. That they would 
at last fetch up on a farther shore he took for granted, though 
he couldn't at the moment see how, or where. 

"How can a woman ever be sure of her husband again?" 
his wife asked rhetorically, and then talked on. 

Frisbie could recall a hundred plays of marital stress in 
which husbands and wives spatted brightly or tumbled 
adroitly through colorful arcs of emotion, but he could think 
of nothing to say now. He frowned into his glass and ran the 
tip of his finger around the rim. Once, he grinned and looked 
at his feet. After taking him to task from various points of 

18 



Flesh and the Devil 

view, suggesting particularly that he put himself in his wife's 
place and imagine what he might think of her in another 
man's arms, Mrs. Frisbie broke off and looked into her own 
glass. "How did you feel?" she asked. "When you did it." 

Frisbie spread his free hand in a gesture preparatory to re- 
plying, but she interrupted him before he could speak. "No, 
don't tell me," she said. "I don't want to know about it." She 
looked at him squarely. "Tell me you'll never do a cheap 
thing like that again." 

With that, Frisbie's resistance, till now smoldering and 
tentative, flared up. He took a drink, planked his glass on the 
mantel, faced his wife deliberately, and answered in words 
that surprised him as much as they did her, "A man can't 
guarantee his emotions for the rest of his life." 

His wife rose and strode to the window. "Well!" she said. 
"What have we here?" 

"Somebody trying to make a mountain out of a molehill," 
Frisbie said, warming now that he had found his tongue. "It's 
time we went at these things in a grown-up way. Why 
shouldn't there be sexual freedom as well as political? Let's 
look at it from a civilized point of view." 

"You must be mad," Mrs. Frisbie said. 

"Plenty!" he said. "I was reading an article in a magazine 
that one right there on the table some sex facts about the 
American male, based on statistics. Well, it seems that before 
marriage the average man has three point five affairs. After 
marriage aside from his wife, of course the average man 
has point seven affairs." 

Mrs. Frisbie dug a package of cigarettes out of the pocket 
of her robe. "Let's hope you've had yours," she said. 

He calculated a moment. "I'd say that's the grossest possi- 
ble exaggeration of what occurred this evening," he said. 
"And that so far you've got very little to complain of." 

'9 



Flesh and the Devil 

That way lay anything but reconciliation. Mrs. Frisbie 
wheeled around. "Surely you don't mean any of this. You 
catft!" she cried. "Or you wouldn't have brought the whole 
business up the way you did. You couldn't get it off your 
chest soon enough." The reflection seemed to give her pause. 
"I suppose I should have appreciated that more, except that 
you caught me so by surprise." She assessed this new idea, 
and Frisbie with it. "You had to tell me before you could lay 
your head on your pillow with any hope of sleep. Wasn't 
that it?" 

Like a man who, trying to trim his sails to contrary winds, 
finds a breeze springing up from an unexpected quarter, Fris- 
bie prudently tacked for harbor on those lines. He sighed 
voluminously and flapped his arms at his sides. "I told you 
what I did because I thought it was something you ought to 
know," he said. 

"You thought you owed it to me." 

"Something like that," said Frisbie. 

"Don't think I don't appreciate that part of it," Mrs. Frisbie 
said. 

"Then let's leave it that way," he said, snapping on a table 
lighter, and, walking over to her, extended the flame to her 
unlighted cigarette. He lit one himself. 

Still, she seemed to withhold something from the promise 
of eventual good graces, as though wanting yet a gesture from 
him to complete the ritual. She prompted him, at length. 
"You are sorry, aren't you?" she said. 

Frisbie was reviewing to himself the hour's events, tracing 
their origins in that misguided impulse he had had when 
homebound. "I did a damn foolish thing tonight," he re- 
flected, thinking aloud. 

"One you'll not do again if the chance arises," Mrs. Frisbie 
said. 



20 



Mud in Your Eye 

"You can say that again!" Frisbie said, walking back to the 
mantel and reaching for his drink. "You can certainly say that 
again." 



MUD IN YOUR EYE 

(P. G. Wodehouse joins 
the black humorists) 

"CooK is most pleased you liked the ragout, sir. You're the 
finest judge of horseflesh in all of England." 

"Thank you, Chives." 

I had my mind on more pressing matters, namely a bid to 
weekend with a girl Chives was convinced had her cap set for 
me. No cove with all his tiles is going to rush out and enlist in 
the sex war said to be raging all round, but there's no guaran- 
tee he won't be drafted, what? Parthenia had to date uttered 
only the vaguest of mating cries, but nothing said she mightn't 
suddenly haul up her slacks and pop the question. And a 
blister who had just taken a bath in the market, as our Ameri- 
can cousins call a drubbing there, might find her property, 
Stony Stairs, a snug harbor for which to tack. 

"You take a murky view of it then, Chives?" 

"To accept Miss Coleslaugh's invitation could compromise 
you irreversibly, sir," said the nonpareil, twisting from my 
typewriter a necktie I had screwed into the carriage in a fit 
of improvisation. "If she construed it as a reciprocation of her 
known interest in you." 

I was feeling more tempest-tossed by the minute. I had 
scraped up an acquaintance on the street that day at least 
what was left of him by the omnibus that had narrowly 
missed myself as well prior to biffing over to my solicitor's 

22 



Mud in Your Eye 

to talk bankruptcy. Chives now shuffled about his chores in a 
manner all too abysmally in keeping with our decayed lot. 
His shoes, though buffed to a fare-thee-well, lacked a lace, 
and one trailed an errant garter. His hair could have done 
with what birds in the book trade call a little judicious cut- 
ting, to say nothing of its being streaked with chutney, and 
not the best chutney by a long chalk. His tailcoat recalled 
those getups worn by music-hall comedians who flail one 
another with animal bladders for the delectation of the low. 
Yes, there was a distinct whiff of Gotterdammerung about 
the whole show, and no good blinking it. He set before me a 
glass of port on which I fairly gagged, but then as a blister 
down on his uppers must realize, any port in a storm. Chives's 
thinking powers alone held up to scratch the ability to help 
a bloke negotiate to the end the General Mess. 

"They are an unstable lot, the Coleslaughs," he went on. 
"You may remember a sister who did herself in for love of an 
Hungarian rhapsodist named Nabisco, who had misguidedly 
encouraged her attentions." 

I did indeed. Nothing like a spot of the old Liebestod to 
ginger up a godfearing community, and poor Phrensy's tale 
bade fair to become a legend in ours. Other elements in 
the bloodlines under review must include dotty old Sir 
Humphrey, assured of tenure at a local bin, and a brother, 
Tacky, no slouch as a weekend sponge himself. Too, he was 
a bit of a voyeur, and bore watching. I needed no refresher 
from Chives on all these dispiriting data. I had tossed and 
turned all morning, revolving them in the old lemon. 

"The name itself is hardly a cockle warmer," I mused. 
"Parthenia Coleslaugh." 

"It is not a winning phrase, sir." 

"Marriage to me would make her Mrs. Teddy Vestige, but 
there's the far more dismaying factor of her size. The throng 
does not exist into which Parthenia would melt. Throngs, on 

22 



Mud in Your Eye 

the contrary, melt into her. Gad, have you seen her lately?" 

"As a matter of fact I did run into her recently in the 
village, sir. She'd just lost fifty pounds, and I must say " 

"Fifty pounds!" I sprang to my feet. "But that would bring 
her down to where she'd strike a chap about right. To say 
nothing of being able to get her across the threshold without 
incident. Chives, why the devil haven't you told me of this 
before?" 

"Sir, I only meant " 

"Say no more. Feed the alligator a few shirts and socks. 
We're off to Stony Stairs in the morning." 

What a blow awaited me there! The grounds were a mess 
of greens, but they had nothing on Parthenia. She was if any- 
thing thicker in the flitch than ever, and I thought her face 
was beginning to show the ravages of cribbage. "Hullo, dear 
dear Teddy!" she said, continuing to ogle me even while 
greeting Chives. She was clutching a book of which I 
glimpsed the title The Single Girl and Gastroenterology. I 
found the whole thing really quite angst-making. I mean a 
cove bends every effort to navigate life's stickier situations, 
but there are those that in their very nature defy all effort 
bending. A spot of elbow bending is rather what's called for. 
The instant I decently could, I pelted upstairs and hid in my 
room till dinner time. 

Americans once had something called Prohibition whereby 
chaps were denied their shellac through a network of med- 
dlers I've never got the straight of. I understood something 
of their ordeal while waiting for the resident Saint Bernard 
to fetch the refreshment for which I'd bleated out a request 
in fleeing. But at last he dribbled into view with a bottle and 
some glasses. I filed a few away in the old cabinet and, thus 
fortified, felt ready to face, if not quite yet my hostess, at 
least the nonesuch in my employ caught at last, it would 
seem, with a rift in that famous omniscience. 



Afternoon of a Faun 

"Well, Chives," I said,, "your intelligence leaves something 
to be desired this time, it appears. I mean your report, the glad 
tidings slipped me in all good faith, that the subject in ques- 
tion had lost fifty pounds." I sent home an ironic smile. 
"You've seen her for yourself in what I may without fear of 
contradiction call the flesh. Just where, pray tell, did she lose 
them?" 

"At the races, sir. I tried to explain at the time, but you 
overrode me in your ardor to be off. She herself has clearly 
gained a couple of stone, as we still say here in the British 
Isles. I'm afraid you've been seeing too much of your Ameri- 
can friends. The only thing reduced about her, if I may say 
so, are her circumstances which she seems trying to repair 
with an advantageous marriage, not unlike yourself. You have 
thus a great deal in common. She too has 'taken a bath' with 
the little Sir Humphrey settled on her. Speaking of which, 
I've drawn yours, sir. Will there be anything else?" 

"Yes. See that I hold the old bean under water for a count 
of fifty." 

"Certainly, sir." 



AFTERNOON OF A FAUN 

THIS is only a story about how I became engaged, but the 
nature and ingredients of that event and of the emotional 
transactions that immediately preceded it are so of a piece 
with what went before, and so depend on it for illumination, 
that a lick of autobiography is indicated. 

I think I can say that my childhood was as unhappy as the 
next braggart's. I was read to sleep with the classics and 
spanked with obscure quarterlies. My father was a man 

24 



Afternoon of a Faun 

steeped in the heavyweight German philosophers; his small 
talk ran to the likes of "I believe it was Hegel who defined 
love as the ideality of the relativity of the reality of an in- 
finitesimal portion of the absolute totality of the Infinite Be- 
ing." I don't think I need dwell further on the influence 
which, more than any other single factor in my life, inspired 
in me my own conversational preference: the light aphorism. 

I belonged, in my late adolescence, which I spent in Scran- 
ton, Pennsylvania, to a clique of pimpled boulevardiers who 
met at a place called the Samothrace, a restaurant and ice- 
cream parlor run by a Greek who let us pull tables out on the 
sidewalk and talk funny. Andropoulos, which was his name, 
was a prickly sort who was forever complaining especially 
when his trade was slack and the lack of money in the till 
made him more irritable than usual that this country was 
materialistic. Be that as it may, we expatriates-at-home could 
be seen at the Samothrace almost every evening, loitering over 
pastry and coffee, or toying with a little of what the Greek 
called his fruit compost. I often wore my topcoat with the 
sleeves hanging loose, so that the effect was like that of an 
Inverness cape, when it was not like that of two broken arms. 
An earnest youth on the high-school debating squad, who 
got in with our set by mistake one soir, tried to interest me in 
politics by speaking of the alarming layoffs then occurring in 
the Department of Agriculture. "I had thought," I said, smil- 
ing around at my disciples as I tapped a Melachrino on the lid 
of its box, "that the Department of Agriculture slaughtered 
its surplus employees." 

This attitude grew into a fin-de~siecle one of cultivated 
fatigue and bored aestheticism, marked by amusement with 
the colloquial main stream. I would lie full-length around the 
house and with a limp hand wave life away. My mother took 
this as an indication that I had "no pep," and urged a good 
tonic to fix me up. 



Afternoon of a Faun 

"No, no, no," my father said. "That isn't what the trouble 
is. It's what they call Decadence. It's an attitude toward life." 
He looked at the horizontal product of their union, disposed 
on the living-room sofa with a cigarette. "He'll come to his 
senses." 

"Instead of coming to one's senses," I airily returned, "how 
much more delightful to let one's senses come to one." 

My mother, a slender woman with a nimbus of fluffy gray 
hair, next tried to get me interested in "healthy" books, like 
the jumbo three-generation novels she herself "couldn't put 
down." 

"The books Mother cannot put down," I said, "are the ones 
I cannot pick up." 

"He is run-down now, I don't carer my mother said. 

My father stamped his foot, for he was becoming as vexed 
with her as he was with me. "It has nothing to do with his 
health," he explained again. "This is a literary and aesthetic 
pose. He's precious." 

"Mother has always thought so," I said, and laughed, for 
there were things that brought out my heartier side. 

Such is my memory of seventeen. 

I was slightly above medium height, reedy, with clothes 
either too casual or too studied. I had a pinched-in, pendulous 
underlip, rather like the lip of a pitcher, which must have 
conferred on me an air of jocularity somewhat at odds with 
my intention to be "dry." My best friend was a high-school 
and, later, junior-college classmate named Nickie Sher- 
man. He needed a good tonic, too, being if anything even 
more fin-de-siecle than I. "Thomas Wolfe was a genius with- 
out talent," he asserted between sips of hot chocolate at the 
Greek's one evening, speaking in a drawl suited to the paradox 
of the statement, which was not meant to be understood by 
more than three or four of those who heard it. The double 
dose of nuance entailed by Nickie's visiting my house, as he 

26 



Afternoon of a Faun 

did sometimes for dinner or even overnight, drove my father 
to distraction, and he literally took to sending me upstairs to 
my room for making epigrams and paradoxes. He said that he 
was thinking not so much of himself as of my mother, to 
whom he considered these subtleties disrespectful, because 
they were hopelessly over her head. 

One evening just after dinner, for example, my younger 
sister Lila got to teasing me about a girl named Crystal 
Chickering, whom I had been dating. My mother remarked 
that she'd have guessed I'd have preferred Jessie Smithers, 
because "Jessie laughs at absolutely everything a person says." 

"That is because she has no sense of humor," I said. 

My father made a truncheon of his Yale Review. "I'll ask 
you to apologize to your mother for that remark," he said. 

"Why?" I protested. 

"Because we don't engage in repartee with the mother 
who gave us life," he said in a florid burst of chivalry that in 
part arose, I think, out of his own sense of guilt at having 
neglected her, leaving her to what he eruditely called her 
"needle-pwah" while he sat with his nose in Schopenhauer or 
went off on vacations by himself. "Apologize!" 

"Oh, don't worry about it, Roebuck," my mother put in. 
"Let him talk over my head the same as I talked over my 
father's. That's progress." 

Feeling perfidy in the form of aphorisms to be uncoiling 
everywhere about him, my father became angrier still. "Ex- 
plain to her what that last so-called paradox means," he said, 
his face red from a lifetime of bad claret and plain damn 
exasperation. "My father would have given me short shrift 
if I'd insulted my mother with language fit for nothing but a 
Mayfair drawing room. All this confounded lint-picking. Up- 
stairs!" he ordered with a flourish of the Yale Review. "Go 
on up to your room, please, until you can learn to talk to 
your family in considerate English." 



Afternoon of a Faun 

"But I've got a date," I objected. 

"You should have thought of that sooner," said my father. 

Rather than waste precious time arguing, I hurried upstairs 
to start serving my sentence. It wasn't until nine o'clock, after 
apologizing for the subtlety of my rejoinder and promising 
to engage in more normal intercourse, that I was let out. By 
that time, of course, I was late for my date with Crystal 
Chickering, toward whose house I legged it, as a consequence, 
with commendable pep. 

Crystal was a girl of my own age who lived about a mile 
from my house. She was one of the milk-white daughters of 
the moon, and it goes without saying that I pursued the 
amorous life with the same easy, half-spectatorial air of in- 
consequence that I did the intellectual or tried to. It wasn't 
easy, for more reasons than one. First, the atmosphere around 
Crystal's house wasn't right. Her father was a sort of home- 
spun philosopher, who conducted an advice-to-the-troubled 
column in the local evening paper. He ran readers' letters and 
his own counsel, which was usually packaged in maxims. He 
had volumes of these, all (in notebooks of his own) cross- 
indexed under types of trouble. That he was my favorite 
character goes without saying, and I was careful not to say it 
either to him or to his daughter. I felt that one had a lot of 
work to do on her before she would understand why he was 
one's favorite character; why he was like those Currier and 
Ives prints which, having outgrown them, one laps the field of 
Sensibility to approach again from behind and see as "won- 
derful." Crystal was often, not to make any bones about it, 
pretty wonderful herself, in those days. The first time I 
dropped the name Baudelaire to her, I had the queer suspicion 
that she thought it was the name of a refrigerator or air- 
conditioner. But I eventually got The Flowers of Evil across 
by reading the bulk of it to her aloud. On the night my con- 

28 



Afternoon of a Faun 

finement made me late, our fare was to be something more 
conventional: I was taking along a new album of Boris 
Godunov. 

Setting the records on the family phonograph, for her 
parents were upstairs and we had the parlor to ourselves, I 
asked, "Do you like Godunov?" 

"Yes," she answered from the sofa, where she was settling 
herself with a cigarette. "Which composition of his is it?" 

I heard the great ships baying at the harbor's mouth, and 
chuckled, already aboard clean out of this. I had that ex- 
hilarating sense of being a misfit that I could taste almost any- 
where in Scranton and that was, in a way, my birthright. 

Crystal closed her eyes and listened to the music. When 
the alburn had been played through and duly enjoyed, we 
forgot about music and got on a variety of other subjects, 
among them marriage and families. "I suppose most people 
want that sort of thing," I said. "You know the eternal 
severities." 

"Everybody wants children, certainly," Crystal answered. 
"Don't you think it would be awful to go through life with- 
out them?" 

"Yes," I said. "There is only one thing worse than not hav- 
ing children, and that is having them." 

"Just what do you mean?" she asked. 

"I don't want to get married," I said, in clear enough tones. 
"I just don't want to get married." 

She looked thoughtfully at the floor. "We're having our 
first quarrel," she said, as though noting a milestone in our 
progress. 

To kiss into silence the lips from which such bromides fell, 
and turn them to the laughter and sighs for which they were 
intended, seemed precisely the formula for tinkling pleasures, 
for caught felicities, for which we were so sumptuously cued 
by nature. One evening in midsummer, I was early for a date 

29 



Afternoon of a Faun 

we were to spend at her house with nobody home at all, even 
upstairs. Her folks were at a testimonial dinner for the editor 
of the paper Mr. Chickering worked for. There was no an- 
swer when I rang the front doorbell, and, following the 
strains of the love duet from Tristan, which seemed to be 
coming from somewhere in back, I walked around the house 
and found Crystal in the back yard with a portable phono- 
graph on a chair. She herself was stretched out in a ham- 
mock with her eyes closed and one hand outflung above her 
head. I had a feeling that she had seen me coming, quickly 
set the record going, and hurried back to the hammock in 
time for me to find her lying on it in a trance of appreciation. 

She was wearing yellow shorts and a red halter, for the 
weather was very warm. Her hair was gathered at the back 
and knotted with a red silk ribbon. On the grass beneath her 
was an empty Coke bottle with a bent straw in it. She ap- 
peared at length to become aware of me standing there, and 
she rolled her head toward me, her eyes fluttering open. 

"Oh, hello," she said. 

I snapped a burning cigarette into the grass and walked up 
to her, my nerves in a trembling knot. She extended a white 
hand, which I took in both of mine and ate like cake. She 
rolled her head away with a sigh. 

"This music. Lawrence Melchior," she said. 

On persuasions from myself, she eased out of the hammock 
and onto a blanket lying on the ground nearby. She pulled 
the grass and, as one who knew good music, my hair. "This 
night." It was darkening, the air wreathed with the musks of 
summer, as of something crushed from the grape of Dusk. 
A moon hung like a gong above the grove of birches behind 
the house. 

The night was a success, and I went home ill with fear. 
I spent the next days scorching myself with one speculation. 
30 



Afternoon of a Faun 

The sight of perambulators sent galvanic shocks through me. 
I was to wheel one through an eternity of ridicule because 
I had succumbed to a single folly and that to the music of 
a composer whose works I had termed mucilaginous. The 
great ships would bay at the harbor's mouth nevermore for 
me. I heard, instead, voices, local in origin and of an almost 
hallucinatory force: "Shotgun wedding, you know." "You 
mean Charles Swallow? That guy who was always?" "Yes, 
the old flaneur himself." (Flaneur: One who strolls aimlessly; 
hence, an intellectual trifler.) Think of a boulevardier push- 
ing a baby carriage! 

I hid in my room with the door locked most of the time. 
Once I stood before my dresser mirror and looked at my- 
self. My face was drawn. It was the face of an alien. I con- 
torted it into deliberately gruesome expressions of woe, so as 
to give everything an exaggerated and theatrical aspect, and, 
by this means, make what I was worrying about seem to have 
no basis in fact. My grimaces did create an atmosphere of 
relative absurdity, and I smiled bravely. Of course all this 
would blow over! Six months from now I would be laugh- 
ing at it. I had about convinced myself of that when the idea 
of tallied months struck me with fresh horror, and I was back 
where I started. 

The voices came again. I tried at first to drown them out 
with a phonograph I had in my room, but there were no 
compositions that could not, by deplorable associations, re- 
turn me swiftly to my cris-e. And the voices continued: "You 
mean that guy who was always knocking convention?" "The 
same." "He seemed to be that type they call the carriage 
trade. Ha! I guess now he" Never. I would go to Lethe 
first, I would twist wolfsbane. I would slip into the hos- 
pitable earth, and among her dumb roots and her unscandal- 
izing boulders make my bed. 

3* 



Afternoon of a Faun 

I was walking down the street, one afternoon during the 
cooling-off period, when I saw a sight that gave the winch 
of agony a fresh turn. Nickie Sherman was approaching. He 
had our Zeitgeist well at heel, for, one hand in his trouser 
pocket and the other swinging a blackthorn stick he was 
affecting those days, he drifted up and said "Hi." 

Stark, staring mad, I answered "Hi." 

"What cooketh?" 

Suddenly, instead of dreading the encounter, I saw a way 
of turning it to advantage. I would remove the sting from 
having to get married (if such was the pass things came to) 
by taking the line that that was what I wanted. This would 
need a little groundwork, and to lay it I suggested we drop 
in at the Greek's, which was a block from there, for some 
coffee. We did. 

The tables at which it was our wont to dally in the cool 
of the evening were in their places outside (Andropoulos 
himself now cultivated the Continental touch we had intro- 
duced, and kept a few tables in the open air), but this was 
the heat of the day and we went inside. Several women 
gabbled at a table about a movie they had been to. 

"Matinee idle," I murmured to Nickie as we took chairs 
ourselves. 

We ordered coffee. Then Nickie, who had laid the black- 
thorn across an empty chair, asked, "Was 1st los?" 

Glancing around with a matter-of-factness into which 
some note of furtiveness must also have crept, I drew out 
cigarettes and answered negligently, "I've been having an 
affair." 

"And?" 

I shrugged. "It gets to be rather a nuisance. We pay for 
security with boredom, for adventure with bother. It's six of 
one and half a dozen of the other, really." I lit the cigarette 



Afternoon of a Faun 

and waved the match out, u Shaw makes matrimony sound 
rather attractive, with that puritanical definition he has of it 
somewhere. I'm sure you remember it." 

Nickie watched Andropoulos shamble over with our cof- 
fee. 

"Shaw is great, up to a point," he said, "and then one sud- 
denly finds oneself thinking, Oh, pshaw!" 

"He describes marriage as combining a maximum of temp- 
tation with a maximum of opportunity. He's quite right, of 
course. It's the most sensual of our institutions," I said. "I've 
half a notion to get married myself," I added vagrantly, stir- 
ring my coffee. 

Nickie's problem was to get back into the conversation. 
I could sense him mulling my gambit as he sipped his own 
coffee, keeping his dark eyes casually averted. He set his 
cup down and cleared his throat, appearing at last to have 
worked something out, and I knew that what he said next 
would determine whether I would have to blow my brains 
out or not. 

"Yes. The logistics of adultery are awful. Matrimony is a 
garrison, but one that has its appeal to a man out bivouacking 
every night," said that probable virgin. 

Freeze it there, I told myself. I knew that if a neat way 
of putting a rebuttal had occurred to him first, instead of a 
concurrence, he would have rebutted, but it hadn't, and I 
was to that extent in luck. My object was to get Nickie into 
as good a frame of mind as possible for my armed nuptials, 
if any to give him a viewpoint from which he would see 
me not as a ridiculous bourgeois casualty going down the 
aisle but heathen to the end. I had to come out of this mak- 
ing sense as a boulevardier who had said "I do." So I said 
appreciatively, "That's neat, Nickie. By God, that's neatly 
put." 

33 



Afternoon of a Faun 

Next to be prepared were, of course, my parents. 

They knew only that I'd been seeing Crystal dickering 
for about a year, and talk of wedding bells would fall rather 
unexpectedly on their ears, aside from sorely disillusioning 
them about my plans to matriculate at Dartmouth in the fall. 
Therefore it seemed wise to pave the way a little by giving 
them to understand that this girl and I were "serious." I let . 
drop this intelligence when they and I were sitting in the 
living room shortly after dinner on the day of my passage 
with Nickie at the Greek's. 

"I've fallen in love with a girl I rather like," I said. "I sup- 
pose I shall marry eventually. One does that. One drifts into 
stability." 

"Upstairs!" said my father. 

But my mother clapped her hands. "That's wonderful!" 
she exclaimed. She was pleased as Punch when I assured her 
it was the Chickering girl, whom she liked best after Jessie 
Smithers, and told her that we were informally engaged. The 
act of betrothal showed pep. It showed downright spunk, 
she declared, especially considering that I had no prospects 
whatever and had to finish school first in any case. "Come 
and sit by me," she said. 

I jollied my mother by joining her on the sofa, where she 
straightway hauled my long legs up across hers, so that I 
was halfway sitting on her lap, and rummaged in my hair 
for old times' sake. "I remember when you were a little 
shaver how you'd crawl across the floor to where I was 
talking on the phone, and kink the cord," she said. "As 
though you could stop the conversation coming through it, 
the way you can the water in a hose. We never knew whether 
you were joking or serious. Did you really think that cut 
off the electricity in the wire?" 

"Doesn't it?" I inquired with wide eyes. She gave me a 

34 



Afternoon of a Faun 

hug that squeezed a groan out of me, like a note out of an 
accordion. 

"We thought for a while you might be feebleminded," 
my father put in wistfully from the mantel, against which 
he had backed to scratch a perennially itching spot between 
his shoulder blades. "Well, all those things come back in a 
flood at a time like this is what your mother means. I've 
done my best for you I believe God will bear me out on 
that but you cannot force values on one who will not have 
them." He fingered an onion wisp of beard, which, together 
with his harried features and embedded eyes, made him sur- 
prisingly resemble the illustrations of depleted sensibility in 
the very literature with which I outraged him Baudelaire, 
Huysmans, and the rest. "I had some standing in the com- 
munity once, under other spiritual weathers and skies, and 
cut a fine figure, too, if I do say so myself. Why, the little 
tots would come out of Sunday school and say, 'There goes 
Jesus.' " He drew a deep breath, and resumed almost im- 
mediately, "And humor where is it today? In my day, 
we would get up to speak at Thanksgiving banquets, and 
begin: 'A moment ago you could have said the sage was in 
the turkey. Now the turkey is in the sage.' That was humor, 
I wish to submit. Well, I've tried to do my best." 

"And you have, Popper," I said, looking over at him from 
my mother's lap. "I appreciate everything youVe done for 
me." 

"It's a tradition I've tried to give you, not bread alone," 
he said. "The rest is up to you. You have brains, imagination 
but have you the brains and the imagination to apprehend 
that these in themselves are not enough?" He squared himself 
a little, and we understood more was coming. "Imagination 
without discipline," he said, looking the young aphorist 
steadily in the eye, "is like a pillow without the ticking." 

My cries of praise and thumps on his back declared him 

35 



Afternoon of a Faun 

to be a success. He pinched his nose and smiled modestly at 
the floor. "Ah, well, perhaps we can manage a wedding gift 
of a thousand dollars when the time comes," he said. More 
thumps and outcries attested to the tide of good feeling 
created by his knack for the right words, and afterward he 
opened a bottle of Madeira and toasted my eventual depar- 
ture from his board in lambent words. 

So everything, on my end at least, was in readiness; as 
much in readiness, certainly, as I could make it. There re- 
mained now only to await zero hour, as I thought of the 
time when I was to learn my fate. That was presumably the 
following Tuesday evening, when I had a date with Crystal. 
Then I would learn whether it was Heaven or Hell for which 
I was to leave Purgatory. 

Crystal was upstairs dressing when I arrived at the Chick- 
ering house that night, so I sat down in the living room to 
wait. Her father was there, in a Cogswell chair, wearing 
slippers and reading the evening paper. He was in shirt- 
sleeves, but then, after all, he was the local shirtsleeve phi- 
losopher. He put the paper down and regarded me with a 
deep frown. "Fd like to talk to you," he said. 

He was a red-haired man of medium size, with green eyes 
magnified by the heavyJensed glasses he wore. He had been 
sunbathing recently, and his was the kind of skin that never 
tans but only turns the pink of mouthwashes. He removed 
his glasses and chewed on their bows. I was twiddling my 
thumbs at a rate not normally associated with that act. 
"What about, Mr. Chickering?" I asked. 

"I think you know." 

I met this with a gulp and the word "What?" brought 
out in a dry treble. The ceiling creaked as under a footstep 
upstairs. That foolish girl had confessed her condition to 
her parents, I thought with panic. Even now, she and her 

36 



Afternoon of a Faun 

mother were up there, hysterically promenading. Paralyzed, 
I watched Chickering thoughtfully revolve a cockleshell 
ashtray on a table beside his chair. The cockleshell was like 
the resort pillows and the wall thermometers in the shape 
of keys to cities, which also heavily garnished the living 
room a souvenir of some past family holiday. Together, 
they left me ill with premonition. Now I would never board 
the great ships. Now I would never bicycle down the Palat- 
inate sampling wines, never sit at the captain's table opposite 
a woman returning to the States after some years spent in a 
novel by Henry James. At best, I would see Niagara Falls 
from the air; it would look like a kitchen sink running over. 

"I think we can safely say that now you're a young man 
with a problem," Chickering said. "And there are some 
folks who think that's my field." 

"There are? I mean, I am? What's my problem?" 

"Why, you're about to enter college without any clear 
idea, I might even say without the least idea, what you want 
to be when you come out of it butcher, baker or candle- 
stick maker," he said, in the American grain. "Now, wait 
a minute. I know education is for the mind, and all that. 
But at the same time a person ought to have some notion of 
where he wants to head. And I just want to leave this thought 
with you for what it may be worth." 

I was spared whatever piece of free wisdom he may have 
had prepared for me by the arrival of Crystal, who just then 
slowly descended the stairway. She was wearing a new dress, 
and she looked singularly radiant. 

"Ah, there you are," I said, rising. "Shall we go? We're 
probably late for the party as it is." 

We were going to a housewarming only three blocks 
away, so we walked. As we strolled toward our destination, 
Crystal slipped a hand into mine, and from time to time 

37 



Interior with Figures 

turned to smile at me. "This night," she said, and took a 
deep breath. What I died to hear I feared to ask. 

At last she said, "I suppose you're anxious to know." 

"Know?" I said. 

She stopped and turned to face nte on the sidewalk. "You 
must be out of your mind with worry, the same as I've been, 
so I won't keep you on pins and needles any longer. Every- 
thing is all right." 

I was free free! The very word went winging and sing- 
ing through my head, like a bird sprung from a cage. Chains 
fell away from me, doors opened in every direction. Flowers 
that had withered leaped to life. The hours in Purgatory 
were almost worth it, for the joy of this release. I that had 
been dead lived again, the master of my fate. I was abso- 
lutely and completely Free! 

I turned, seized her in my arms, and, in an ecstasy of 
gratitude, asked her to marry me. 



INTERIOR WITH FIGURES 

THE SPREAD of so-called action sculpture poses a new prob- 
lem for owners of art objects, or, more accurately, adds a 
fresh dimension to one already long plaguing them as home- 
owners. It's this. When a power-driven assortment of me- 
chanical giblets gleaned from scrapyards goes on the blink, 
whom do you get to repair it? It's a headache on which I 
can speak with authority, possessing, as I do, a congeries of 
available materials entitled Improvisation No. 18, which re- 
cently stalled on me an hour before a cocktail party at which 
I planned to unveil it. The following playlet, already snapped 
up by the Yale Drama School for burial in its archives, may 



Interior with Figures 

not, when ultimately unearthed by future scholars, bear out 
the claims for the black comedy in which plain folk are cur- 
rently said to thrash, but it will, I think, suggest the occa- 
sional modest gray crise to which we may all reasonably 
aspire. The action is, as I say, autobiographical, but the names 
have been changed to protect the sheepish. 

The curtain does not rise in the tediously conventional 
sense, but is rather rent from top to bottom, to reveal Mr. 
and Mrs. Brent Paternoster, in party fig, anxiously watching 
an electrician who is lying on his back under an exciting 
assemblage of pipes, belts, and blades indeed, the work of 
an artist of more than promise. Paternoster paces and glances 
at his wristwatch, his nerves, already a can of worms, de- 
clining steadily under the clank of tools and the streams of 
malediction floating upward through the metalwork. At 
length, the serviceman crawls out from under. 

ELECTRICIAN. Well, your trouble ain't electrical. Connections 
are all O.K. and so are the switches, transformer, and wall 
socket. So 'tain't in my jurisdiction. (Hurls his tools into 
an open satchel) That'll be twelve-fifty and a kiss from 
the Missus our standard fee for a service call now, as 
you know. Being as how it's electrical work, I might say 
our "current fee." Oh, that's rich! Our current fee. 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. Are you sure you understand this type 
of collage? It's by the noted Swedish sculptor, Nils Mael- 
strom. 

ELECTRICIAN. Yes, I'm familiar with his work. Why don't 
you call him in to get her running for you? 

PATERNOSTER. He can't be reached. He's in Chicago, deliver- 
ing a paper at a learned-society meeting. 

ELECTRICIAN. You ask me, delivering papers is his what-do- 

39 



Interior with Figures 

you-call-it. Metier. (He goes over to collect his buss from 
the Missus 'while Paternoster produces the money.) 

PATERNOSTER, (handing over the twelve- fifty and making no 
secret of his outrage as a consumer}. And I voted for 
Roosevelt. 

MRS. PATERNOSTER, (to Electrician, as a woman instinctively 
concerned over the good repute of her possessions) . What's 
your opinion of Maelstrom? 

ELECTRICIAN. Oh, he served his purpose as an innovator, a 
sort of catalyst. But as an artist I think he chews out loud. 
Still, your piece here has its merits. It conveys a fine sense 
of spatial dilapidation, and the comment in the pipe joints 
is most caustic. That's not pseudo-junk, lady. That's the 
real thing. I tell you what. If somebody can give me a 
hand with it, I'd be glad to load it on my rig and run it 
down to some garage mechanic for a look-see. 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. Oh, you have a truck out there? 

ELECTRICIAN. Yes. It's not much of a truck just a van ordi- 
naire. 

PATERNOSTER, (knowing offenses must needs come in the 
world, but woe unto them by whom offenses come). I 
voted for him four times. I went through the whole thing. 
The New Deal, the Raw Deal, the Ordeal . . . 

ELECTRICIAN, (to the woman) . It must be a drag for you, 
with Mr. Nostalgia here casting backward glances like 
anything. Still, my grandfather always said the Roosevelt 
era was a great one. Trust-busting, the charge up San Juan 
Hill- 

PATERNOSTER. You may go! 

(Mrs. Paternoster strolls to the door with the Electrician, 
and as they pass the sculpture she is, again, defensive about 
her taste.) 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. The whole point of this sort of thing is, 
of course, to make do with available materials. 

40 



Interior with Figures 

ELECTRICIAN, ('with a glance at Paternoster). Don't we all. 
(Exiting with his bag of tools') Well, toodle-oo. Don't let 
your goat get gotten. 

(Paternoster goes to the improvisation and tries to start it 
'with a good kick, withdrawing his foot with a howl of 
fain. He limps to the telephone, where he paws through 
the local directory.) 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. Are you looking up a phone number? 

PATERNOSTER. Your powers of divination are uncanny. I'm 
going to call a plumber. The trouble may be in the hy- 
draulic assembly. 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. That'd be Mr. Vanden Bosch. Here, let 
me do it. (From a pop-up book of numbers frequently 
used, she instantly has the one she wants and dials it.) 
Hello, Mr. Vanden Bosch? Why, we're having a kind of 
emergency here with something I think needs a good 
plumber, and I was wondering Oh, I see. Thank you. 
(She hangs up.) He no longer makes house calls. 

PATERNOSTER. Look, to begin with, you don't handle these 
repair people the way you have to these days with kid 
gloves. You made your first boo-boo calling him a plumber. 
We don't call them that anymore. 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. What do we call them? 

PATERNOSTER. House urologists. (He seats himself resolutely 
before the sculpture to study it. Doing so, he props an 
elbow on a knee and brings a fist up under his chin, inad- 
vertently striking the pose of Ro dirts Thinker.) What 
about the wash-machine repairman? Is that too farfetched? 

MRS. PATERNOSTER. No, I wouldn't say anything was too far- 
fetched. Any kind of tinker at all if you could get one. 
The wash-machine agency would just take our name and 
send us service when they could. It might not be for two 
or three days. 

PATERNOSTER. Well, with a jam like this, if you can't get a 

4* 



Good Boy 

repairman, in fact don't even know what kind you need, 

and with guests due to begin arriving any minute, there's 

only one thing to do that I can think of. 
MRS. PATERNOSTER. What's that? 
PATERNOSTER. Hand me my screwdriver. 

(She goes to a nearby table for it.) 
MRS. PATERNOSTER (taking it to him.) Here you are. I made 

it with two jiggers of vodka, the way you like it, and the 

orange juice is fresh, Brent. Now you just sit there and 

try to unwind till the others get here. 



GOOD BOY 

HAVING READ in various periodicals of a recent swing back to 
a belief in Total Depravity, I am reminded of a slim, bearded 
sixth-grade teacher whose enthusiasm for this doctrine still 
casts a shadow over my school-day recollections. The Chi- 
cago community into which I was born was composed largely 
of immigrant Dutch Calvinists, who were of course among 
the most dour custodians of the idea before it passed out of 
fashion. Now that it's back, it might be instructive briefly 
to sketch the man who remains in my mind as synonymous 
with the tenet. 

His name was Van Dongen, his beard was an impeccably 
trimmed Vandyke, and he enjoyed a reputation for shrewd- 
ness which he sustained by habitually looking over the top 
of his spectacles. He had been a schoolmaster in the Nether- 
lands before he settled, in early middle life, in our Reformed 
Dutch community. I had heard conflicting reports of his 
temperament, which was alternately represented as stringent 
and warm, and it was with mixed feelings that I passed into 

42 



Good Boy 

the sixth grade and came under the scrutiny of his pale-blue 
eyes. 

On the first day of the term, he strode into the classroom, 
offered a prayer lush with references to man's conception 
in sin and proneness to all manner of evil, walked to a closet 
to get out the Bibles that were passed around each morning 
for the Scripture reading, opened the door, and stepped back 
as a cat shot out and streaked away through the open 
window. 

It was, unfortunately, a big orange tabby that I had found 
in the schoolyard earlier and had taken into a broom closet 
in the basement to see whether or not its eyes glowed in the 
dark. Van Dongen looked at me over the rims of his glasses 
and beckoned me with a long, bony finger, and I knew he 
had seen me toting the cat and was now putting two and 
two together. Under questioning, I stated the facts, explain- 
ing that the animal had got away before the experiment was 
concluded, adding that I had no idea who had caught it 
later and put it in the Bible closet. Actually, I had a good 
idea it was an oaf named Red Schaaf, whom I could see 
snickering behind his fingers. 

"So it is not enough that you put cats in the Bible closet," 
Van Dongen said. "You must lie, too." 

"I'm not lying," I said. "I don't know who did it." 

"Now you lie about your lying. So is your sin already 
threefold. Does your mother use Kitchen Klenzer?" he asked 
sharply. I thought at first he was going to send me home for 
some and wash my mouth out with it, but presently he made 
it clear what he was getting at. On a can of Kitchen Klenzer, 
there was a picture of a woman holding up a can of Kitchen 
Klenzer, which in turn had a picture of a woman holding up 
a can, and so on, and Van Dongen used these pictures within 
pictures as a symbol of how evil perpetuates itself into in- 
finity, until, as Saint Paul said, the whole Creation groans and 

43 



Good Boy 

travails. He told me he'd give me one more chance to check 
this sequence and, laying a hand on my shoulder, asked softly, 
"Now did you do it?" 

"No," I said. 

"Fourfold." 

In memory, his voice merges absurdly with that of a radio 
announcer on a quiz program saying, u You now have four- 
fold. Do you want to try for fivefold?" I got up to sixfold 
before he sent me back to my seat with orders to stay after 
school. 

I stayed after school an hour that day. Then Van Dongen, 
who had been working quietly at his desk, handed me a crisp 
note to my father. It read, "This wicked and stiff-necked boy 
put a large, dirty cat in among the copies of Holy Writ. In 
addition, he persists in lying about his guilt. I trust you will 
labor with him. Try to make him ashamed of his conduct. 
And let me know in the morning what happens. Yours in the 
Lord, Dirk Van Dongen." 

He gathered up his papers and put on his dark felt hat. 
"Be ashamed by nine A.M.," he warned me as we parted at 
the door. 

The note I brought from my father the next morning 
attested his belief in my version of the affair and suggested 
that it would be useless to labor with me further. 

Van Dongen gave me one more chance to confess. "Have 
you searched your heart?" he asked me. 

"Yes," I said. 

"And have you found it black?" 

"Not in connection with this," I said. 

That brought my blame to sevenfold, which I guess he 
figured was a good, round biblical number and as likely a 
point as any at which to feature me in the morning prayer. 
"We bow our heads in meekness and humility," he began, 

44 



Good Boy 

his beard pointing like a dagger at the class as he raised his 
face to the Throne of Heaven, "to beseech Thee on behalf 
of one who has gone astray. It behooves us to remember in 
judging him that, being human, he is prone to all manner of 
evil. But though we are totally, we are not absolutely, de- 
praved," he said, stressing this official distinction and im- 
plying that we were at least open to the light. 

By now, I saw the light myself. There was to be a ball 
game that afternoon which I didn't want to miss, and when 
Van Dongen sent me into the corner to "think it over," with 
the hint that I'd probably stay after school again if I didn't 
mend my ways, I thought it over, fast. One thing was clear 
there was no telling how long this would go on. I turned 
from the corner and raised my hand. 

"All right, Mr. Van Dongen," I said. "I did it." And I 
hunched my shoulders, ready for the blow I expected. 

Seconds passed, but I got no whack on the head. I opened 
my eyes and looked up cautiously. I was not prepared for 
what I saw. Van Dongen's face shone with an almost beatific 
joy. 

"Good boy." He came over and laid a hand tenderly on 
my shoulder. "And what else do you have to say?" 

"That I'm a wretched sinner," I said, "prone to all manner 
of evil, and not worthy of the least of any blessings." 

"Books away, geography lesson aside," he said to the class. 
"We will have a party." 

"A party r I said. 

"There is more joy in Heaven over the return of one 
sheep who has gone astray than over the ninety-and-nine 
who are safe in the fold. Hymnbooks open. Number thirty- 
two." 

Number thirty-two, into which everybody swung lustily, 
went like this: 

45 



Good Boy 

There were ninety -and-nine that safely lay 

In the shelter of the fold; 

But one was out in the hills away, 

Far off from the gates of gold. 

I stood before the class blushing modestly. After the hymn, 
Van Dongen gave one of the kids fifty cents and sent him 
to the corner store for some maple chews. When the class 
was dismissed for recess, Van Dongen called me to the front 
of the room, squeezed my arm happily, and gave me an apple 
he had on his desk. "Remember we're all miserable sinners," 
he said. "Full of perversity and deceit. Don't ever forget it." 
"I won't," I said, going out the door with my mouth full 
of apple. 

After that, things went along smoothly in sixth grade for 
some weeks. Then, one afternoon, the history lesson was 
interrupted by the muffled ringing of an old alarm clock 
hidden in one of the drawers of Van Dongen's desk. Who 
had put it there, I didn't know. 

"Who did this?" he asked, setting the clock on his desk. 
"Who did this?" 

There was a dead silence. 

"Very well, we will all stay after school." This was a 
familiar enough technique, and one with a sound theological 
underpinning. Van Dongen explained that just as we all have 
sinned through Adam, who was our "federal head" at the 
dawn of history, so the entire class had sinned through a 
single miscreant, and we must all stay until the culprit con- 
fessed. If he wanted to be that honest, Van Dongen added, 
looking around the room. I thought his eye, as he went from 
pupil to pupil, rested hopefully, for just a second, on me. 
The deep silence continued. 

I remembered the fruits of repentance the apple and the 



Good Boy 

adulation and the maple chews and my hand went up. "I 
did it," I said. 

"Good boy!" 

He came down the aisle and laid a hand on my shoulder. 

"Why do you do these things?" he asked, like one putting 
a catechism question. 

"Because I'm wicked to the core," I said. 

"Good stuff." 

The hymnbooks were brought out and we had another 
ninety-and-nine party, as I later came to think of them. The 
candy I had hoped for didn't materialize this time, but the 
radiance of Van Dongen's satisfaction almost made up for 
that. There was no doubt that I was in with him solid. 

All through sixth grade I kept confessing things. This may 
seem to have been a peculiar way of getting into a teacher's 
graces, but only to someone who hasn't had sufficient expe- 
rience with Total Depravity to appreciate the relish with 
which this doctrine can be embraced. I suppose that, as the 
incarnation of a cherished belief, I afforded Van Dongen his 
greatest emotional luxury, that of contemplating the corrup- 
tion of man. He waved cheerily at me on the street, gave 
me rides in his car, and tossed me an occasional apple or 
orange. 

Red Schaaf, the lout who had been responsible for most 
of the misdemeanors to which I had confessed, had probably 
imagined at first that he was pretty clever to be getting away 
with it, but eventually he caught on to the fact that there 
was a percentage in being the one who was out in the hills 
away, and he decided to move in on the racket himself. 

Van Dongen entered the classroom one morning and was 
drenched by a bucket of water rigged up over the transom. 
Red's hand went up. 

"I did it," he said. 

Abstract iniquity, mendacity, mischief directed at no one 

47 



Tulip 

in particular but only issuing amorphously from the perver- 
sity of the human heart these were one thing; a dignified 
Dutch schoolmaster standing drenched and ridiculous before 
a room full of snickering children was quite another. There 
was no joy in the Kingdom of Heaven this time. Red Schaaf 
got a belt behind the ear, and instead of having a ninety-and- 
nine party thrown for him, he was barred from the one 
scheduled for Lincoln's Birthday the next afternoon, and 
given a good shellacking with a ruler into the bargain. His 
slow brain couldn't handle the nuances of the thing at all 
He just knew that somehow, somewhere along the line, he'd 
got cheated out of something, and he laid for me in an alley 
I passed on my way home from school and beat the daylights 
out of me. 

After that, he felt better, and so, as a matter of fact, did I. 
I had occasionally been troubled about the lies I was telling, 
even though I had been forced into them in the first place. 
So when Red Schaaf beat me up, I felt as though I had got 
what was coming to me, and that the books Up There were 
now, so to speak, balanced. Then, one day toward the end 
of the school year, Van Dongen had occasion to explain to 
us the meaning of "pseudo," and that night I closed the 
matter forever. Kneeling beside my bed before going to 
sleep, I prayed, "Lord, have mercy on me, a pseudo-sinner." 



TULIP 

RECENT newspaper stories and photographs of the four-year- 
old ordained minister in Los Angeles take me back to the 
days of a child prodigy in our old neighborhood. I'm not 
familiar with what happens generally to children who fall 



Tulip 

into the hands of the Church rather than into its arms, and 
my picture of this boy on the Coast is necessarily limited to 
what I have read in the papers: that he conducts wedding 
ceremonies and preaches sermons of an interdenominational 
nature, occasionally over the phone to his contemporaries 
but usually, under the auspices of something called Oldtime 
Faith, to mass meetings presumably of adults. The bantling 
I knew didn't preach and he wasn't four; he was nine. In 
fact, not to lie about it, he was pushing ten when I knew 
him. What distinguished him was a grasp of comparative 
religion (Dutch Calvinism as against everything else, it boiled 
down to) that put many of his elders in the shade and prob- 
ably would this nipper in California, too. 

To begin with, he would not have stood for anything 
interdenominational. He was a skilled hairsplitter, and that 
was good in our neighborhood. "One Dutchman, a Christian; 
two Dutchmen, a congregation; three Dutchmen, heresy" 
was the charge leveled at us by more Americanized people, 
who boasted, for instance, of belonging to denominations 
that hadn't had a schism in a hundred years. To these my 
father always tersely replied, "Rotten wood you can't split." 
Expert dialecticians who could put doubters on the right 
track were highly thought of there, and this boy did a lot of 
that. Not that he was particularly better grounded in doc- 
trine than many adults, but his youth added a dramatic in- 
gredient that often shamed people into a sense of the short- 
comings of their catechism. One day he was sicked on me. 

I don't remember exactly how old I was at the time, but 
I was past adolescence and interested in a girl. That was the 
rub. She was by secular standards perfectly "nice," but re- 
ligiously "outside the pale," as the phrase went, and marriage 
to her might put me forever beyond the means of grace. 
Her very name, Barbara Gail, rang with a chilling dissonance 
among the Sadies, Jennies, and Gretas that I knew. 

49 



Tulip 

"Why not have a talk with Herman?" my father sug- 
gested, referring to the boy. (Straying into alien society was 
automatically taken as proof of weakened Faith.) I wasn't 
very agreeable but didn't put up much of a protest, so one 
Sunday afternoon Herman was invited to drop in and go 
over some of my doubts. We had coffee (it takes no great 
precocity to be drinking that among the Dutch at the age 
of ten), then my father excused himself and left the living 
room. I knew, however, that he was sitting in the kitchen, 
just around the corner of the open door, listening. 

Herman set his cup aside, crossed his legs, and looked at 
me. He was a rather fat, overweening boy, dressed in knee 
pants. I didn't like him. 

"How far have you gone with this girl?" he asked. 

"If we're here to talk theology, let's talk it," I said. "Leave 
the girl out of it." 

"She's a modern Congregationalist, isn't she? You know 
where they part company with us," Herman said. 

"I know where they keep company with us, too," I said. 
"At the heart of religion, where all men are one in faith and 
charity." 

There was a sharp scrape of a chair in the kitchen, and 
Herman shifted in his. "The danger is, you make one com- 
promise, then another, then another, till you're 'unequally 
yoked together with unbelievers' Second Corinthians six 
verse fourteen," he said. He continued to make light of my 
taste. 

We argued in this vein for a while, till, cutting short as 
fallacious an analysis of mine of the relation between grace 
and works, Herman questioned my comprehension of the 
entire meaning of Calvinism. He doubted, next, whether I 
could enumerate its five basic tenets. 

This angered me and I plunged in heatedly. "Total De- 
pravity, Salvation by Grace " I struck up, then paused, sure 

jo 



Tulip 

only of the first. The second was not an article of creed at 
all but merely a vague principle. I knew them as well as I 
did my own name, but I was stopped cold, unable to think 
of a single other one. 

Herman turned his empty cup slowly in the saucer with 
his fingertips. "I hate to do this to you," he said, "but there's 
an easy way of remembering." And he cited an acrostic that 
is still in use among the Dutch Reformed as an aid in teach- 
ing the five canons of the Church as officially kid down by 
the Synod of Dort, in the seventeenth century. "Think of 
the word 'tulip,' our national flower. It spells out the first 
letters of the five doctrines: 'T' for Total Depravity you 
were right there 'IT for Unconditional Election, 6 L' for 
Limited Atonement, T for Irresistible Grace, and T'?" he 
put to me pedagogically. " T'?" he prompted. " T' for-?" 

"Pumpernickel bread," I said, having had enough. 

"Perseverance of the Saints," he finished, and looked at me 
darkly. 

Out of resentment, I lit a cigar, which I took from a nearby 
humidor, and offered Herman a stick of gum. "Thanks," he 
said, slipping it into his pocket. "I'll chew it later." 

Looking at Herman as he sat in the chair, I remembered 
the last time I'd seen him at the local department store, 
buying a new suit and getting a baseball bat with it, free. 
"You're not so much," I said in a low voice, so my father 
couldn't hear. "You just memorize all this stuff and reel it 
off, but you don't understand it. You're just a machine," I 
went on with growing spite. "None of this has anything to 
do with general intelligence anyhow. You're nothing but a 
monstrosity!" 

That was in a voice loud enough to rouse my father. 

"This will get us nowhere," he said, his face appearing 
around the edge of the kitchen door. 

"Neither will this," I said, pointing at Herman. 

5* 



Tulip 

I now launched out even more vehemently with my own 
belief that the meaning of religion lay not in doctrine but 
in the individual heart, on which basis I regarded myself as 
just as devout as they were, maybe more. I said that what 
the Church needed was new elements and fresh points of 
view, not reactionaries like this kid. "The whole thing will 
come down around your heads someday, mark my word," 
I said to the diehard boy. 

My father came all the way into the room. He got us 
back on the original subject what to do about the girl. 

Herman walked the floor, frowning at the rug. "Why not 
send him off on a trip?" he proposed to my father. "Maybe 
a new environment, a change of scene, will help him forget 
her." 

The tradition of packing stricken youths off on Atlantic 
voyages and cruises in the Caribbean was known and ac- 
cepted by us, except that our destinations were tamer. For 
diversion, we mostly ran up to Holland, Michigan. My father 
hit on this now. "You'll be just in time for the Tulip Fes- 
tival!" he said. He was referring to the celebration that was, 
and still is, held annually in the spring by the residents of 
Holland, and that attracts numerous tourists in the Middle 
West. I packed my things and went, to get away from 
exegesis if not from Barbara Gail. 

The weather was beautiful and I had a week in Holland. 
The Festival opened with a parade of townfolk dressed in 
Dutch costumes scrubbing the streets, which was our substi- 
tute for dancing in them. And the tulips! There were purple, 
orange, and crimson tulips; tulips in circles, ovals, and 
squares; tulips on lawns and bordering sidewalks and massed 
in riotous acres along the outskirts; tulips in hundreds and 
thousands and tens of thousands, reminding me of the five- 

52 



Every Leave That Falls 

fold immutable Truth, and of the depraved dogwood I had 
savored the year before with Barbara Gail. 

The infatuation ran its course and I forgot "the daughter 
of the Philistines" without any help. Herman made a habit 
of dropping in at our house Sunday afternoons after church, 
but just by way of those coffee klatsches that are such an 
overpowering part of my memory. He would occasionally 
phone me in the informal way the child parson on the Coast 
is said to call his friends, ringing me up to see if I had hold 
of the Free Will-Election distinction, or to ask what I'd 
thought of some book he'd recommended. 

The crisis in our household passed with my feeling for 
the girl, and the passion with which dogmas were debated 
dwindled in accordance. I had one last outburst one Sunday 
after a sermon on the subject of Supralapsarianism versus In- 
fralapsarianism (the question whether, in Election, God did 
or did not also predestine the Fall of Man). "What is the 
sense of splitting these everlasting hairs, anyway?" I ex- 
claimed. "Why can't we emphasize instead the central truth 
on which all Christians can unite?" 

"Stop talking like a crackpot," my father said. 

Of Herman I lost track many years ago. I have often 
wondered what became of him where he is and what he's 
doing. He must be about thirty now, and in his dotage. 



EVERY LEAVE THAT FALLS 

THE OTHER NIGHT, leaving a party with a man who was in 
rather poor condition, I offered to see him home in a cab. 
It seemed like a simple enough thing to do, but what with 
all the cajolery, stumbling and scolding it took, and the in- 

53 



Every Leave That Falls 

distinguishable replies he made to questions about where he 
lived and how to get there, it was a good hour before I 
finally delivered him to the doorman of his apartment house. 
I turned back into the street murmuring "Never again," and 
the vow struck a familiar chord. I had made the same reso- 
lution following an incident with a drunk almost fifteen years 
ago an experience that should have taught me more of a 
lesson than, apparently, it did. 

On Saturdays in the fall of 1938, I ran a taffy-apple route 
between Chicago and Geneva, Illinois, supplying storekeepers 
in a score or so of the interlying suburbs, and on two of the 
other days of the week serviced fifty candy-vending ma- 
chines in the same general region. It was a line of work I had 
gone into during the depression and, finding it profitable, had 
continued with afterward, in order to have time for other, 
less remunerative projects. I had an old Chevrolet that was 
adequate for carrying the candy but not the taffy apples, 
since the apples were packed in bulky cartons and I couldn't 
cram in enough of them to satisfy the demand. My father 
helped me out, finally, by letting me use his Packard on 
Saturdays. I could get a third again as many apples into it, 
because, in addition to being larger than the Chevrolet, it 
was one of the models from which you could remove the 
whole rear seat, leaving the space between the back of the 
front seat and the door of the luggage compartment empty, 
thus converting the sedan into a kind of small truck. The 
only stipulation my father made was that I have the Packard 
home before the stroke of midnight each Saturday, since he 
had strong religious scruples against the commercial use of 
the car on Sunday. 

I was making my way home one chilly Saturday night 
around ten o'clock when, at a turn in the road near Wheaton, 
my headlights picked out a dim shape in the roadside grass. 
I stopped, got out, and found a small man in a blue serge 

54 



Every Leave That Falls 

suit lying on his side, unconscious. Damned hit-and-run 
drivers! I thought indignantly, heaving him by the armpits 
to a sitting position. I began to worry him backward through 
the gravel toward my car, and he emitted a small moan. 
"There, there," I said. "Easy does it." He was beginning to 
come to, and with some help from him I finally got him into 
the car, propped him up on the front seat beside me, and 
took a closer look at him. 

There was an ominous flexibility about his limbs, and I 
began exploring him gingerly for breaks when my hand en- 
countered a large, round lump the shape and size of a bottle 
on one flank. Next an odor, imperceptible in the open air, 
reached my nostrils, and I began revising my inferences. 
Still, there was a cut over one eye, so I couldn't be sure that 
he hadn't really been struck by a car. Certainly something 
had to be done for him or, anyhow, with him and I 
looked around for a place from which to phone. There was 
a filling station about a hundred feet back, on the other side 
of the road, and I made for it, trotting carefully since my 
pockets were sagging with silver from the day's business. 

The filling station's sole attendant was a heavy-set man 
of about forty, who stood with his hands in his coveralls 
pockets, looking out of the window and inhaling from a 
panatela that he kept in his mouth. He clipped his sentences 
rather as if they were cigars, dropping the first word of 
every one. 

"Seems to be the trouble?" he asked, not taking his eyes 
from the window. 

"I found a man lying beside the road," I said breathlessly. 

"Happened to him?" 

"Well, I don't know," I said. "He seems to have been 
drinking, but I think he was hit by a car." 

"Far from the road is he?" 



Every Leave That Falls 

"I didn't leave him lying there," I replied. "I've got him 
in my car." 

The man turned deliberately, taking the cigar out of his 
mouth, and his sentences became complete. "You should 
never go to work and move an accident victim," he said. 
"Say there are broken bones. People have died of being 
moved by amateurs. Don't ever, ever do that again." 

"Well ..." I said, looking at the floor. 

He regarded me a moment in silence, to let his words 
sink in. "Remember that," he said. Then he put the cigar 
back in his mouth. "Expect you better phone the Wheaton 
police," he said, nodding toward a phone booth. 

I phoned them, and they told me to sit tight, they'd be 
right over. As I hung up and left the booth, I had a sud- 
den notion that they mightn't be right over at all, and, 
glancing at an old overstuffed settee against one wall, I 
said to the attendant, "Look, it happens I'm in quite a hurry 
to get to the city. Could I leave him in here?" 

He took the cigar out of his mouth and turned to me 
slowly. "What, move him again?" he said. He put the cigar 
back, and I dropped the subject and stepped briskly toward 
the door. "Sake," he muttered, looking out the window. 
I buttoned my topcoat and opened the door. I hesitated a 
moment with my hand on the knob. 

"I'm right over there," I said, pointing. "Will you tell the 
cops when they come?" 

"K." 

When I got back to the car, the drunk was sitting up in- 
specting the backs of his hands. "It must be late," he said. 
"I'm dirty." 

I climbed in beside him and pulled the door shut. 

"What happened?" I asked. 



Every Leave That Falls 

"Somebody must of hauled me in here," he said, looking 
around the interior. "This is nice." 

I took out a clean handkerchief and began dabbing the 
cut over his eye, which had begun to trickle again. "No, I 
mean did somebody hit you?" I asked. 

He reflected a moment. "You damn right," he said venge- 
fully, speaking in thick, flannelly tones. "And I'd like to get 
my hands on the son of a bitch." 

"So would I," I said. "There, now. Easy." 

He settled himself back, evidently reassured. "I'll get him 
tomorrow. Yellow bastard! No. Monday." 

Having brushed away some of the dirt around his cut, 
which seeemd to be about the extent of his injuries, I made 
a bandage of my handkerchief, tying it around his head and 
knotting it firmly behind. "Say, you're all right," he said, 
looking at me gratefully with what focus he could command. 
"By God, they don't come any better." He became progres- 
sively more sentimental, finally reaching out a hand and 
starting to pat my face. "Cut it out," I said, drawing back. 

We sat there, waiting. Suddenly, something I knew I had 
heard but hadn't perceived came fully into my consciousness. 
I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. "Who will you 
get Monday?" I asked. 

"McCaffrey." 

I rolled my window down and looked at the cars coming 
along the road, watching for the police. "That the guy who 
hit you?" 

"Yeah," he said. "I'll get him at work. If he shows up." 

From some mumblings that followed, I was able to piece 
together the events of the evening. He and McCaffrey, both 
of whom worked at a nearby factory, had drawn their pay 
and set out to hang one on at a tavern down the road, visible 
from the car as a streak of indecipherable neon. They had got 

57 



Every Leave That Falls 

into an argument, and McCaffrey had taken a poke at him 
and run or, anyhow, had gone off and left him. 

The drunk stirred, after a silence, and pulled the bottle out 
of his pocket. It was a half pint of Old Oscar Pepper. "Open 
this," he said, handing it to me. I did and had a drink. Then 
he took the bottle, slid his palm across the mouth of it, and 
drank, letting the whiskey gurgle through the neck. "Ah!" 
he said gratefully, smacking his lips. He passed the bottle back 
to me, and since it had begun to turn cold, I was far from 
averse to another. We emptied the half pint, and then he 
tried to throw it out the window, but the window was closed, 
and the bottle slammed against the glass and clattered to the 
floor. "Whoops!" he said equably. "Missed it." 

"Hey watch it!" I said, fumbling for the bottle, which I 
finally retrieved and threw across the road from my window. 
I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Ten-twenty-five. I 
tapped my fingers on the steering wheel and kept watching 
for the squad car. The next thing I knew, the drunk was at 
the glove compartment, fumbling around inside it and spilling 
my taffy-apple records. I yanked his hands out, stuffed the 
records back in, and slammed the door. "Now, cut it out!" I 
said. "Or get the hell out of here!" 

He turned toward me with a start. He shifted in his seat and 
regarded me for several seconds, narrowly but with a re- 
flective air. "YouVe changed," he said. 

The cops didn't come and they didn't come. When the 
drunk settled, mumbling, into the corner and showed signs of 
passing out again, I glanced at him and then, speculatively, at 
the ditch, and the thought of putting him back where I'd 
found him crossed my mind. I recalled a couple I knew who 
had tried to return an adopted baby after living with it for 
several months. 

I didn't put the drunk out, however, and presently he began 
brushing dirt and wisps of grass and foliage from his clothes. 



Every Leave That Falls 

"Every leave that falls shows a Supreme Being," he said, pick- 
ing a leaf from his sleeve and holding it up contemplatively 
by the stem. "You," he said, and when I didn't respond, he 
pulled my sleeve. "You." 

"7 know," I said irritably, watching down the road. 

He sighed, and looked around. "Let's go somewhere else. 
This is no good." 

I peeled the cellophane from a fresh pack of cigarettes. 

"We're waiting for someone," I said. 

"Who?" 

I wadded up the cellophane and dropped it out the win- 
dow. "You'll see," I said. 

I had no more than lit my cigarette when the cops arrived, 
scrunching to a stop behind us. I got out quickly. There were 
two of them a tall, rangy, dark one, and a short, roundish 
towhead with horn-rimmed glasses. Apparently they were 
both new and were bent on going into the situation with a 
maximum of conscientious thoroughness. 

"Now, where was he when you seen him?" the short one 
began, after looking briefly in at the drunk, who was mutter- 
ing about seasonal cycles and design in nature. I pointed out 
the spot. 

Meanwhile, the other cop had poked his head into the rear 
of the car. "What happened to your back seat?" he called. I 
explained, and they exchanged skeptical frowns. Openly leery 
of the idea that anybody would be peddling taffy apples in a 
Packard, they questioned me further, and I wondered whether 
they were thinking of the same thing I was a recent story 
in the papers about a gangster who had thrown the back seat 
of his car into the path of a pursuing motorcycle cop, over- 
turning him and nearly doing him in. The fistfuls of money 
in my pocket, which I offered in evidence, seemed only to 

59 



Every Leave That "Falls 

make them more suspicious. "Let's see your driver's license," 
the short one said. 

"Sure!" I said. I reached confidently toward the glove com- 
partment, but my movement died in mid-air. "It's in my 
other car," I said. 

The short one nodded sardonically and continued, "Well, 
then, how about the title to this automobile?" 

"That I've got," I said, searching briefly in the disheveled 
interior of the glove compartment and producing my father's 
state registration. As they examined it the thought crossed 
my mind that perhaps, after all, I was lucky to be without my 
driver's license, since my father's first name wasn't the same 
as mine. The short cop was studying me through his thick- 
rimmed glasses. 

"How long have you been in this line of work?" he asked. 
"Taffy apples." 

"Seven years," I said. "Now, why don't you take this man 
and let me go?" 

They said that if the drunk was really injured, I'd be de- 
tained for questioning in any case, and that therefore I might 
as well take it easy. So I told them the drunk hadn't been 
struck by a car at all, that he was just drunk, and they asked 
me sharply why I was changing the story I'd given over the 
phone. At that point, the drunk started muttering about what 
a bastard I'd turned out to be. The cops circled suspiciously 
around to the front of the car, where they began to examine 
my fenders and bumper closely, looking, as I gathered from 
their murmured exchanges, for bloodstains. They came back. 

"Did you hit this man?" the tall one asked me abruptly. 

I turned and gave the drunk a look. "Not yet," I said. 

"Oh, a wise guy," the cop said. 

"Now, look," I said, "I want to get the hell out of here and 
home. I've got to be home by twelve o'clock." 

60 



Every Leave That Falls 

"What for?" the tall one asked. 

I threw my cigarette into the ditch. "For religious reasons." 

"Let's smell your breath," he said. But what he meant was 
that he had smelled it already, and presently we were all on 
our way to the station. 

The tall cop drove the police car, taking the drunk with 
him, and the short one drove mine, ordering me into the 
back, where, of course, I sat on the floor. "We have to be 
strict with traffic violations," he called. "We're making a drive 
on altogether too many accidents." I squatted in the cavernous 
rear, preparing my defense not so much for the police as 
for my father. The cops, since they were certain to phone 
my home to check on the car ownership, were likely to cor- 
roborate my story of the delay, but not in a way that would 
be found palatable at the other end: driving while under the 
influence of liquor, suspicion of running down a pedestrian, 
and operating a vehicle without a license were sure to be 
mentioned. 

Even so, I decided to tell the truth about the car ownership. 
This involved still another shift in my story, but it was with 
at least a show of open-mindedness that, when we reached 
the station, the desk sergeant put a call through to my father. 

"Do you own a Packard?" the sergeant asked. "Do you 
have a son driving it around here with taffy apples?" He got 
what seemed to be a satisfactory answer. "Well, we're having 
a little trouble with him here," he said, and reeled off the 
charges I had anticipated. A crackling response, audible all 
over the room, came through the earpiece. 

"Damn it, you're getting him all upset," I said. "Let me talk 
to him." He handed me the receiver and I explained the com- 
plications, as much in my favor as I could, and then hung up 
and turned back to the cops. They fined me fifteen dollars 
for operating a motor vehicle without a license and let me go. 

61 



Every Leave That Falls 

I sped toward the city in a driving sleet, perfecting my 
rejoinders: all the biblical quotations I could think of that 
embodied a flexible view of the Sabbath. 1 got; the car into 
the garage at twenty minutes to one, and found my father 
sitting in the kitchen waiting for me when I stepped into the 
house. 

"It's Sunday/' he said, glancing at the clock. 

" 'What man shall there be among you that shall have one 
sheep, and if it fall into the pit on the Sabbath day, will he 
not lay hold on it and lift it out?' " I began, wasting no time. 
" 'How much is a man better than a sheep?' " 

" 'Abstain not only from evil, but from the appearance of 
evil,' " he replied, scrutinizing me. 

" 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the 
Sabbath,' " I said. 

" 'Wine is a mocker , strong drink is raging,' " said my 
father, still examining me narrowly. 

I thought for a while. " 'Drink no longer water, but use a 
little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities,' " 
I said at last. "It w r as cold out there. That's what you get for 
trying to play Good Samaritan. I only had a slokje" I added, 
using the Dutch word, which I thought would be less jarring 
to my father than "snifter." 

"I hope you've learned your lesson," my father said. 

"I certainly have," I said. And I had. The very next Satur- 
day, a woman flagged me and pointed at a flat tire with which 
she was stalled beside the road, and I shot past her without a 
second thought. 



62 



COMPULSION 

"THE THINGS my wife buys at auctions are keeping us ba- 
roque," I said. There was a perceptible movement of cocktail 
guests away from me, and a round of resentful murmurs 
varying according to the amount of my talk each person had, 
in the past hour, been within earshot of. I had in that period 
stated to a small group discussing modern tonality that not 
since Debussy had dissonance, in my opinion, lent enchant- 
ment; asked a woman who was planning to winter in Tijuana, 
"Tijuana go there for the climate or just to gambler"; and 
dilated on music in the heir as potential compositional talent 
in one's offspring. 

The guests were a cross-section (by now, I might add, a 
very cross section) of Westport town life. Psychiatry was 
represented by a sprucely tweeded man in his fifties named 
Cranberry, who looped an arm through mine, drew me aside, 
and said, "I think I can help you." 

"Help me?" I said, plucking a canape from a passing tray. 

"It's obviously a compulsion with you," Cranberry went 
on. "You know what compulsions are. Hand washing, crack 
avoiding, counting" 

"I know what compulsions are," I said, and went on to note 
that an acquaintance of mine at this very party couldn't eat 
salmon caviar because of a need to tally the roe as they ex- 
ploded against the roof of his mouth. 

"All right/' Cranberry said. "Your trouble is, you can't 
pass a word up. You're a compulsive punner. Your mutilating 
conversation springs from whatever subterranean conflict 
hinders you from participating in it maturely." 



Compulsion 

"Don't you fellows ever have a fear you're not being 
followed?" I said. 

Cranberry's manner became arch. "Mind telling me your 
earliest recollection?" he asked, with a small, pursed smile 
that gave him rather the look of a winsome weasel. 

"Not in the least," I said. "It's about an alarm clock I had 
in my bedroom when I w r as a kid. A clock I always think of 
as the potato clock." 

"Potato clock?" Cranberry repeated, with a puzzled frown. 
"Why potato clock?" 

"Because I had to get up potato clock every morning." 

"You're a sick man," Cranberry said, "or you're pulling 
my leg with an old vaudeville joke." He pursued the more 
succulent of the alternatives. "There is something we call 
Klang associations. It's a sort of chain punning, and is charac- 
teristic of certain encysted types. Your pattern is a complex 
and refined variation of these word salads." 

"It is also," I answered coolly, "if I am not mistaken, the 
method by which James Joyce constructed Finnegans Wake" 

I turned and walked off. 

For some days, however, I was unable to get Cranberry's 
impromptu observations out of my mind. I sedulously derided 
his phrase "mutilating conversation" in talking the encounter 
over with my wife, aware that I was doing so because that 
quill had gone home. One aspect, in particular, of my habit 
tended to bear Cranberry out the fact that these rejoinders 
of mine did not arise principally out of a wish to play the 
wag, and not infrequently fell as drearily on my own ears as 
on those of my hearers. Perhaps I was indeed driven by some 
subcutaneous need to sabotage dialogue. Since Cranberry had 
put his finger on that much, why not, I thought, let him try 
to uncover the cause of my compulsion, which was really so 
much sand in the gears of my social relations and repeatedly 
cost me my wife's good graces? So I took up the genial dial- 



Compulsion 

lenge, "Come see me sometime," which Cranberry had flung 
over his shoulder or, rather, over mine as I walked away 
from him, and made an appointment for the first of what 
was to be a series of interviews, in his midtown office. 

Cranberry's headway with me may be inferred from the 
way matters stood at the end of one month. As my fourth 
weekly consultation drew to its close, he leaned across his 
desk and asked, "Do you feel, now, that you're acquiring a 
better grasp of your symptoms?" 

"Symptoms I do," I answered, "and then again, symptoms I 
don't." 

"Dotft be discouraged" Cranberry said, with a smile that 
tendered me every good wish. "Pm not." 

Cranberry remained, throughout the proceedings, the soul 
of patient industry, never doubting that we were burrowing 
steadily toward the root of my volonte. His confidence 
buoyed me. Then, suddenly, my responses became completely 
phonetic. When, in some illustrative reference of Granberry's 
to his own formative years, he mentioned that he was born in 
Oklahoma, I threw out "Oklahoma tell your mother she wants 
you." 

I wet my lips nervously and slid up in my chair. "Good 
God," I said, "I was never that bad before. What's hap- 
pened? Now I even dream in puns. Like last night I dreamed 
of a female deer chasing a male deer in the mating season." 

j7> 

"A doe trying to make a fast buck." 

CC J53 

I was vexed to see Cranberry, while I was visualizing 
ostracism from all but the most undiscriminating circles, rise 
and rub his hands. 

"We're muddling the disease, so to speak the way medi- 
cation sometimes stirs up an infection before It can get to 



Compulsion 

correcting it," he said. "Your white count, as it were, is way 
up." 

"Well, let's get it down," I said. 

But up it stayed. I now not only refrained from minglino- 
in society I didn't dare leave the house (except, of course, 
to visit Cranberry). During this period, only my wife knew 
that I was "worse." I wouldn't care to give any detailed evi- 
dence of my white count other than the above ramshackle 
instances. Cranberry, on the other hand, had never been so 
optimistic; he said that nothing proved so much as the intensi- 
fication of my condition how close we were to uncovering 
the traumatic incident that undoubtedly lay at the heart of it. 
But weeks went by and still no traumatic incident. 

So finally, resentful of Cranberry and the pass to which 
he had brought me, I made up a traumatic incident that I 
felt would, preparatory to my bailing out on the whole busi- 
ness, caricature both him and the calling he professed. 

I sprang it on him midway of an interview. 

"Say," I said, pausing in a train of reflections on my early 
school days, "I just remembered something. Something that 
comes back to me now, after all these years." 

"What's that?" Cranberry said alertly. 

"I was in fifth or sixth grade," I said. "We were being 
asked to use words in a sentence. When it came my turn, 
the teacher gave me the word 'ominous.' 'Let's hear you use 
"ominous" in a sentence,' she said. I got up and stood in the 
aisle." I hesitated in my narrative, as though the strain of 
resurrection were a taxing one. 

"Go on," Cranberry said. 

"I groped desperately for a way to use the word assigned 
me," I resumed. "As I did so, I heard the kid in the seat be- 
hind me a kid who was always razzing me in the school- 
yardI heard him whisper something to somebody and 

66 



Compulsion 

snicker. Burning with anger, I turned and said, If he doesn't 
shut his mouth, ominous sock him one!' " 

Cranberry set down a letter knife he had been bending back 
and forth in his hands. He coughed into his fist and rose. 

"It's impossible, you see, to cheat," he said. "I mean a hoax 
is just as significant as a bona fide memory. More so, in what 
it reveals of you, because it's an act of conscious selection, 
whereas memory is an z/wconscious one." 

Embarrassed for me, he walked to the window and tugged 
at the cord of a Venetian blind. "I can never seem to adjust 
this thing," he said. "Why, I have no choice but to take your 
little charade at face value. And I think that what it con- 
stitutes is nothing less than an X-ray of your personality." 

The thought seemed to steep him momentarily in a gloorn 
as great as my own; Cranberry, that is, had the same sense 
as I of being stuck with this very corny case history. 

"Couldn't it be part of the wiiite count?" I asked, trying to 
renege. 

Cranberry shook his head. "It would still be just as rev- 
elatory," he said. 

Returning to the chair behind his desk, he plunged into an 
interpretation of the data I had given him. 

"It confirms and crystallizes what I have felt about you all 
along," he said. "You are fundamentally afraid of people. I 
said from the start, this habit of yours was a way of mutilating 
conversation, and now r we know why you mutilate it. You 
do so in order to escape the risks of engaging in it on an 
adult level, because you're afraid you won't stand up to the 
test of social comparisons it constitutes. Everybody you meet 
is that boy in the schoolyard oh, I don't doubt that there 
was one, or many and you ought to recognize that, In try- 
ing to grasp why you deflate people." He paused, then went 
astringently but sympathetically on. "Freud has explained 
that humor is a denial of anxiety, so you must understand 



Co?npulsion 

that these puns of yours arise from one of the most intense 
forms of belligerence the belligerence of the insecure." 

He let this sink in a moment. "Let that do for today," he 
concluded. "Think over what I've said, and we'll talk about 
it some more next time." 

There weren't many more next times. At first I was piqued, 
but soon I came to feel that Cranberry was probably right. 
With this new insight into myself, I determined to control 
my tendency, and, slowly, I succeeded. Success came some- 
what faster once Granberry had stressed this important point: 
"Always bear in mind that the other fellow is just as afraid 
of you as you are of him." 

At length, my habit cleared up. When, for example, some 
friends of my wife's and mine named Pritchett phoned to in- 
vite us to come listen to a record they had just acquired, add- 
ing that it was "the new long-playing Godunov" I did not 
reply, as once I might have, "That's Godunov for me." Nor, 
when a dinner companion exclaimed that she had glimpsed 
three wedges of southbound geese over her rooftop in one 
day, did I succumb to the temptation to murmur, "Mi- 
gratious!" 

Granberry dismissed me as arrested. "I think it'll stick," he 
said. "Your adjustment should last indefinitely. Unless, of 
course, you have some experience sufficiently unsettling to 
jar loose your old resentment and antagonism. But I think 
that unlikely. I can't imagine what it could be." 

Nor could I. Matters seemed to have been resolved. 

Then, one Saturday morning a month or so after Granberry 
and I had shaken hands and bade one another farewell, I was 
drinking midmorning coffee at home with my wife when I 
saw the mailman drive up. 

"I'll get it," I said, and rose and went out to the mailbox. 

There were three pieces of mail one, I saw by the return 

68 



Scene 

address on the envelope, from Granberry's office. I had not 
opened it by the time I rejoined my wife. 

"This is from Cranberry," I said, giving her the two others, 
which were addressed to her. "Probably his bill." 

"Well, whatever it is, it's worth it," she said, abstractedly 
perusing the other things. "There's nothing whatever left of 
that awful habit of yours. Not one iota." 

I opened the envelope and peered inside. I uttered a cry of 
genuine shock. 

"How do you like that!" I exclaimed. "Fifteen calls and 
iota bandit seven hundred and fifty dollars!" 



SCENE 

SHE OPENED the closet door to hang up her coat. "That was a 
good picture," she said, and it struck her that that was the 
first thing either of them had said since they left the theatre. 
She heard no answer and, looking into the living room, saw 
that he had sat down there and lit a cigarette. "Didn't you 
think?" 

He murmured agreement, dropping his ashes into the ash- 
tray from a height, with an abstracted air. 

She yawned. "Well, what do you say we hit the hay?" 

He took a puff of his cigarette and blew the smoke thought- 
fully at the glowing end. "Have you ever noticed anything 
funny about our marriage?" 

She came to the doorway. "What do you mean, funny?" 

"Well, we never seem to talk about it, or go into the 
thing," he said. "We never analyze it. I don't know." 

"Analyze what? Because I'm fired." 

"Why, what we mean to each other," he said, crossing his 

69 



Scene 

legs. "You know very well what I mean. The way Tracy and 
Hepburn did in that bar tonight. The way Powell and Loretta 
Young did in the resort cottage last week. The way every- 
body does." He reached for the bourbon which she now saw 
he had poured himself and took a -swallow. "Going into the 
whole thing, to work things out and see what they've got and 
what they want from each other. But we go along from day 
to day twenty-two years now and never once try to 
figure out what we've got, how it's working out, and what 
we're heading for." 

"But what is there to head for?" 

"We've never, from the very beginning, analyzed ours. As 
though," he concluded, looking at his glass as he held it out at 
arm's length, "there's nothing to analyze." 

She came in. "Well, if you want," she said, and glanced at 
her wristwatch. "We can analyze it a while," She sat down. 
"What would you like to go into?" 

"Oh, well, you know what I mean," he said, uncrossing his 
legs and putting his feet on the ottoman. He punched out his 
cigarette and immediately lit another. 

"They analyze it because they run into complications," she 
said. 

"And why do they run into complications? Because the 
thing is alive. It's a love affair. You get trouble when there's 
two people vibrating on each other, is when you get trouble. 
You can't have a crisis where nothing's going on. All right. 
They have a misunderstanding. Then they separate, and 
finally come together again with a richer, deeper understand- 
ing. Right?" 

"Yes." She nodded slowly. "That seems to be the way it 
usually goes." 

"But we never argue about any part of it, or even have a 
quarrel, let alone a misunderstanding you could get anything 

70 



Scene 

out of. Maybe," he said, looking through the doorway into 
the dark vestibule, "we were never meant for each other." 

They were silent, and she stared soberly at her lap for 
some time. Then she looked up hopefully. "Maybe we're 
analyzing it now." 

He shook his head. "I doubt it," he said, getting up, "but 
we might start any minute." 

She watched him walk around the room a few moments, 
then asked, "How long have you been thinking along this 
liner" 

"It started when Spencer Tracy took the swizzle stick out 
of Hepburn's hand and said, 'Just what is it you want of me, 
how do I fit into your life?' and she answered, 'Why, I don't 
know.' " He looked at her sharply. "Supposing I was to ask 
you that what would you say?" 

"Why, I don't know," she said. "I never gave it any 
thought." 

"That," he said ominously, "is what Hepburn said, sending 
Tracy back to the Pacific Northwest to think things 
through." 

She thought about this. "Well, what do you want me to 
say?" 

He walked to the window, and as he stood there with his 
back turned, there was something familiar in his stance, some- 
thing she had seen a thousand times, though not precisely on 
the premises. "I don't know," he said, looking out. "I don't 
know what we know or what we want to know. I don't 
know whether you've ever been married to the real me, or 
whether I've been married to the real you, and neither do 
you. Twenty-two years and nobody knows who's been mar- 
ried to who." He gave a soft, bitter laugh. 

"Are we doing it now? Is this what you mean?" she asked 
hopefully. 

"Twenty-two years of taking everything for granted." 



Scene 

"How else is there to take it?" 

He turned around abruptly. "Just what do you want out of 
marriage?" 

"Want? Well, I never gave it a thought. What is there to 
want? I want a home, I guess, a husband " 

"What do you want a husband for? What do I mean to 
you? What am I? Who am I? Have you got the slightest 
idea?" 

"Can't we talk about this in the morning? I'm perfectly 
willing to analyze our " 

"You think of me as a pretty simple person, don't you? 
But after twenty-two years of taking everything for granted, 
have you ever asked yourself whether I'm finding myself in 
this whole thing?" 

"How do you mean, finding yourself?" 

He looked down at her. "That," he said, "is what Joan 
Bennett said in the small hotel, and by evening Raft was on 
the train on his way back to the other woman." He regarded 
her a moment. "How do you know/' he said, his eyes narrow- 
ing, "I'm not complicated?" 

"Well, I never gave it a thought. I just go on from one day 
to the next trying to make a home, be a decent wife, cooking 
your meals, ironing your " 

"Tchah!" He emptied the glass, and then turned it slowly 
in his fingers. "Never wondering, never questioning, never 
asking what is this thing all about and where will it lead." He 
walked to the table, and, pouring out some more bourbon, 
turned to glance at her. "Have you got any idea what I'm 
talking about?" 

"Well, sure, I guess so. But I keep thinking maybe we're 
not the type who " 

"Maybe what we've got is perfect in everybody's opinion 
smooth and even, because it's dead." He ran his eyes skep- 
tically over the furniture. "Maybe what we've got," he said, 



Scene 

"is a glass grape." He fired a jet of soda Into his tumbler from 
the Seltzer bottle he had recently bought. 

"How can we find out?" 

He sat down again. "I'm glad we started this. It'll prove 
to have been a good thing. Brings it all out in the open, clears 
the air." He studied his glass a moment. "The whole thing 
will, of course, be straightened out when I come back." 

"Are you going away? " 

"What else is there to do? I've got to go away and think 
things through." 

"Where would you go?" 

"I think Albuquerque. It's all desert around there." 

"Why Albuquerque? It's way in New Mexico and would 
be pretty expensive. I don't know whether we can afford to 
do it on that scale." 

"Albuquerque is far away and nobody knows me there." 

"There's plenty places closer by where nobody knows 
you," she said. "Look, why don't you run up to Poughkeep- 
sie for a few days? You could stay at the Nelson House, 
where we stopped on our way to Hank and Betty's and that 
you liked so much. Remember? I'd like to go along, but I 
suppose that would throw the whole thing off." 

He got out of the chair. "Poughkeepsie! Sometimes I don't 
know whether you're trying to make a fool of yourself or 
me, or whether you know what I'm talking about half the 
time. Who would ever go to Poughkeepsie to think things 
through? It would be ridiculous. People would laugh in your 
face if it ever got around. It would all fall down in a heap." 

"Why?" 

"Because there's nothing to going to Poughkeepsie, It has 
no body." 

"Well, when would you leave?" 

"Couple days. Fve got three weeks' vacation piled up that I 
can take whenever I want now." 

13 



A Crying Need 

They were both silent, thinking it over. Then she said, "I 
read somewhere that separate vacations sometimes can be a 
very good thing." Before he could speak, or the exasperation 
even appear on his face, she went on, "How long will it take 
you, do you figure the whole three weeks?" 

He shrugged. "You can see things in a new perspective, 
sometimes, in no time at all. But I'll probably stay the whole 
three weeks." 

She got up, tugging her skirt into place. "That's settled, 
then. I'll run down to my sister's and stay with her. She needs 
some help now with the new baby and all, so it works out 
fine. Of course, I'll say you're going for your sinus. We've 
never had anybody go away to think things through in our 
family, that I know of, and I wouldn't want it to get around. 
You hear?" 

"O.K., O.K." 

She yawned. "So I think I'll hit the hay. You coming?" 

"I'm going to sit here awhile." 

"Well, don't stay up too long. It's late." 

He listened to her footsteps go along the hall and the bed- 
room door close. He settled dow r n in the chair, holding the 
drink between his hands and swirling it slowly as he gazed 
into the glass. 



A CRYING NEED 

SOME YEARS AGO, in Chicago, I worked on a community 
newspaper for which, among other things t I reviewed mov- 
ies. The editor, a mass of muscle named Braunschweiger, told 
me to be casual relaxed about the whole thing but I was 
young then and brought to my task an armament of intel- 

74 



A Crying Need 

lectual and aesthetic principles that brooked no compromise. 
I gave no quarter to the second-rate, the obvious, or the 
mawkish. It was the last-mentioned that oftenest drew my 
fire, because the six or seven months of my tenure on the 
semi weekly Clarion coincided with a period when a series 
of particularly sentimental entertainments were issuing from 
Hollywood. The first one I inspected in the line of duty con- 
cerned an orphan girl who was both overworked and mal- 
treated by her foster parents, and it overlooked none of the 
time-honored devices for putting audiences through the 
wringer. "The briniest bit of fiddle-faddle to come along in 
years," I wrote, my eyes still moist from the experience. 

I had taken a girl to see it with me, and when she read my 
review, she said, "But Marvin, I thought you liked it." 

"Liked it," I said. "That piece of tear gas?" 

"It seemed to me I heard you sniffle a time or two." 

"That's what I mean. It was mawkish." 

The next important release was a version of Little Women 
starring Katharine Hepburn, to an afternoon performance of 
which my friend, a spirited brunette named Thelma, also 
accompanied me. (I covered pictures only in their neighbor- 
hood runs, so gala Chicago Loop premieres were not among 
the perquisites of my job, which paid thirty-five bucks a 
week.) One knew w r hat to expect here, all right, and it was 
early in the film that the handkerchiefs began to come out 
and the hysteriasts to tune up. The death of Beth came along 
in due order. Gazing from her pillow at the sunlit window 
sill, she smiled wistfully and murmured, "My bluebird came 
again." 

A sob racked my frame as tears welled to my eyes and 
down my cheeks. I was aware that Thelma was watching me 
more closely than she did the action. The movie ended in 
keeping with the book, with Jo becoming engaged to Pro- 
fessor Bhaer under the umbrella. He had nothing to give, 

75 



A Crying Need 

he cried, "but a full heart and these empty hands," and Jo, 
slipping her own into his, answered, "Not empty now." 

As we stumbled up the aisle toward the street, I told 
Thelma that I had to write my review immediately, because 
the printer was waiting for the copy, and I suggested that 
if she came with me to the office, I would make it snappy, 
and then we could go out for a bite of dinner. She agreed, 
and we climbed into a cab. 

At the office, she sat in a club chair, paging through maga- 
zines and smoking cigarettes while I hammered out my no- 
tice. When I had finished and was about to stuff it into an en- 
velope for the office boy to take to the printer's, she said, 
"Could I see that, I wonder?" 

I said, "Certainly," and handed it to her. 

It ran in part: "Well, the old chromo is back again, and it 
can be imagined that Hollywood has missed few of the 
plenteous opportunities it offers for bringing in the gusher. 
Katharine Hepburn makes a fetching Jo, and the rest of the 
cast are properly charming, but it remains, for the most part, 
the maudlin affair it always was, and the wary are hereby 
warned that, rather than plunk down their six bits at the 
neighborhood wicket, they can get the same effect by staying 
home and peeling an onion." 

Thelma rose and dropped the copy on my desk. 

"But you sat there and bawled" she said. 

"So? I said it was maudlin, didn't I? What's that got to 
do with it? I sometimes wonder what ails you." 

"But" she spluttered, and then gave up. "I just don't 
understand you, Marvin." 

I hung a cigarette in my mouth and thoughtfully set fire 
to it. "If you mean my intellectual approach to things and 
all, I can't help that," I said. "It's the way I am. I suppose 
we might as well face up to the fact that we're not very 
compatible, if that's what you're hinting at." 

76 



A Crying Need 

I was giving her the air before she could give it to me, 
as I had clearly sensed she was about to do, or was debating 
doing. I never dated her again. Instead, I took up with a 
pink-skinned blond girl I had recently met in the office 
the boss's niece. 

With Beverly Braunschweiger it was just the other way 
around from what it had been with Thelma. She had read 
my criticisms first, and been dying to meet me, though at 
the same time afraid to, because I was such a brain. I ana- 
lyzed everything with such glacial detachment that she 
hardly dared to open her mouth for fear of saying some- 
thing that I would secretly laugh at. "You've got such a 
keen mind a person never knows where they're at," she told 
me early in the course of our first dinner together. "You 
could be too clever for your own good, you know. Your 
stuff is brilliant Do you mind my criticizing you this way, 
Marvin?" 

"No, not at all," I said, buttering a roll. "Go right ahead." 

"It's terrific, sure, but I wonder if life can always be lived 
on that plane." She shook back her gold hair with a slim 
hand, and gazed thoughtfully into her plate. "I mean I just 
wonder." 

Our first diversion together was a hillbilly musical so hor- 
rible as to be incapable of breeding divergent opinions be- 
tween any two people above the level of those it depicted. 
We walked out when it was half over. Our next date was a 
garden party, in the process of which some romantic prog- 
ress was made. Then, two weeks later, I took her to a film 
entitled Broken Melody. This concerned a violinist-composer 
whom a tragic experience had crushed both creatively and 
personally. He went to the dogs. The obligatory scene 
showed him slumped over a table in a waterfront bar, into 
which walked the woman who had never lost faith in him, 

77 



A Crying Need 

carrying his instrument, which she had salvaged from a hock 
shop. "I dare you to look at this," she said as he dazedly 
raised his head. She got him cleaned up and back to work at 
an interrupted concerto, at the premiere of which, acknowl- 
edging a thunderous ovation in Carnegie Hall, the artist said, 
"Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to meet the real com- 
poser of my concerto," and drew from the wings his tremu- 
lous girl, who stood hand in hand with him as the audience 
rose to their feet against a burst of climactic background 
music. Beverly and I sat shoulder to shoulder, sharing a hand- 
kerchief, our tears pattering like rain into a common bag of 
popcorn. 

"Sentimental slop," "pure hokum," and "more treacle than 
Hollywood has ever extruded from this tired old theme" 
were among the strictures composing my savage review. 

Two afternoons later, Beverly called me on the phone. 
"Fm absolutely flabbergasted, Marvin," she said. "I've just 
read your review. I thought you enjoyed the movie as much 
as I did. That you thought it was good, and had heart." 

"Please," I said, wincing. "At least spare me that." 

"But I simply don't understand you. A person sits there 
blubbering, and then " 

"Oh, good God!" I groaned. "Must we go through that 
again?" 

"What do you mean, 'again'?" 

"Nothing. I was just talking to myself. Look, I'll call you 
next week." 

I was in no mood to be patient, or even civil, having just 
been called on the carpet by Braunschweiger himself over 
the very same subject. 

It seemed there had been a flood of letters from readers 
protesting the austerity of my notices, and he was taking 
them seriously. "Cerebral block of ice," "sophisticated snob," 
and "If he doesn't like movies, why does he go to them?" were 



A Crying Need 

among the snatches I caught in the samples Braunschweiger 
showed me. I put up a brisk defense, knowing damn well my 
job was at stake. "There's a crying need for critical stand'- 
ards," I said, "in the movies as well as in other art forms. If we 
can't maintain some kind of criteria, and do so honestly and 
vigorously, then what's the good of noticing anything at all?" 
He said he saw my point of view but that my smart-aleck 
tone of knocking everything had crept into all my cover- 
age whether of church suppers, political rallies, or exhibi- 
tions of water colors by the wives of advertisers real or 
potential and that while he liked me personally and appre- 
ciated my integrity, it was increasingly apparent that I was 
unsuited to a newspaper serving a community of homes. He 
must, regrettably, let me go. 

It turned out to be a good thing, actually. I got a job in 
the office of a textbook publisher, where, for the first time 
in my life, I earned enough to get married on a wish very 
much inspired by the next girl I met. Before I knew what 
had happened, I was marching down the aisle to faintly 
throbbing organ music, in a small chapel, by candlelight. 

I held myself in rigidly as the reading of the form began. 
Presently, there was a rustle in one of the pews behind us, 
and the sound of a sob stifled in a handkerchief. I set my 
teeth. Visual details the chancel banked with flowers, the 
stained-glass window, the clergyman's powdered jowls all 
swam in a Post-Impressionist blur. "I now pronounce you 
man and wife," the minister said, and as my hand groped to 
my breast pocket, I was dimly aware of my bride appraising 
me with some surprise. 

Our first dispute occurred a few months after we had set- 
tled down in our tiny apartment, over the subject of the 
marriage bond itself. I had analyzed sex as a biochemical urge 
on which a tribal curb is required. I had pointed out that 

19 



A Crying Need 

Romantic Love is a more or less semantic concoction guar- 
anteeing woman's deification through a period of delay 
known as courtship an exquisite frustration to .resolve which 
a man commits himself to an institution vital to the security 
of her young. 

My wife slammed down some knitting on which she was 
engaged, and stalked out of the room. 

"Now what?" I asked, following her into the bedroom. 
"Must you fly off the handle just because I say marriages 
aren't made in Heaven? Are we to live forever on honey?" 

"Oh, you intellectuals!" she exclaimed, tweaking her nose 
with a handkerchief plucked from a bureau drawer, which 
she now banged shut with an elbow. "Must everything be 
analyzed and dissected to a fare-thee-well? I'm sorry, but 
must it always be anthropology or psychology or whatever, 
for everything? It's all very well to have a mind like a steel 
trap, but is nothing safe from it? Not even motherhood?" 

"Darling, you mean?" I said, stumbling toward her with 
eyes that saw not, a catch in my throat. "You mean this flat 
won't be big enough for all of us soon?" She nodded, and we 
melted into one another's arms, my shoulders heaving as I 
took her head to my breast. 

We had a fine, bouncing boy. That was some years ago, 
and though it seems only yesterday that he was laughing in 
his shoofly and sticking cucumbers in the car exhaust, he is 
now a high-school student telling the old folks how much 
they are worth chemically. 

"I will not have that kind of talk around this house," I told 
him one evening, following a remark of that nature inspired 
by the science homework over which he was bent at a living- 
room table. "Telling your mother she is worth ninety-eight 
cents in physical elements! You ought to be ashamed." 

"I didn't tell her," he said. "I told you. I said -" 

80 



A Crying Need 

"It's the same thing. She probably overheard it in the 
kitchen, and by extension it includes her anyway. For my- 
self I don't care, but I'll not have you speaking disrespect- 
fully of the mother who bore you. She carried you under 
her heart once, do you know that? How much in chemical 
elements was she worth then a dollar ninety-six, all told? 
Because she was metabolizing for two." I was tired and 
irritable after a long session with my insurance agent, with 
whom I had been hammering out a whole new life-insurance- 
and-annuity program, and I was trying to refresh myself with 
a glass of the dietetic soda pop the doctor had advised my 
switching to from after-dinner beer and highballs. "I don't 
hold with this detestable materialistic viewpoint. We're hu- 
man beings with a soul, not animals reducible to elements 
you can put in a test tube, or a mass of reflexes that can be 
pinned down by psychological analysis. And next year let's 
don't start dishing out that anthropological malarkey about 
symbolically Killing the Old Man every time we get the car 
for tonight, Pop. Let's just taboo that one in advance, shall 
we? Shall ie?" 

"Why, yes, sir," he said, looking at me in surprise, and 
some alarm. "Of course. Please don't get upset like this, Pop- 
per. You know it isn't good for your " 

"All right, then." I took a swig of the soda and opened my 
evening paper. When I was breathing normally again, a few 
moments later, I said, "Besides, this intellectualizing every- 
thing, it finally leaves a person bored. Did you know that, 
young fellow-my-lad? Bored to tears." 



IN DEFENSE OF SELF-PITY; 
OR, PRELUDE TO LOWENBRAU 

IT SEEMS TO ME that we encounter increasing references 
these days to self-pity. The term crops up everywhere in 
articles, editorials, books and always with the same under- 
lying assumption; namely, that it is something to be deplored. 
That is taken for granted. Why? What's wrong with self- 
pity? I would like to say a few words in its defense, if I may. 

Had it not been for a bit of self-commiseration now and 
again, I would not be here to defend it, and neither, I suspect, 
w r ould some of its detractors be here to belittle it. A style of 
tight-lipped endurance would long ago have split me down 
the middle and sent me to the cleaner's, whereas an occasional 
well-timed bout of sheer maudlin wallowing in melancholy 
enables me to pull myself together, get back on my feet, and, 
as the grand old wall motto has it, "Keep on keepin' on!" 

I learned early that mystic solitude in which we all walk 
(you, too, out there, you yacking extrovert) can remember, 
in fact, the exact moment when the truth broke upon me 
like an apocalypse. It was the luminous hour of dusk, in the 
dead of winter. I had gone as a boy of six to play with a new 
neighborhood kid, at his house. He proved so obnoxious that 
his mother, determined to punish him for his rudeness to a 
guest by depriving him of something he valued, said, "You 
don't deserve such a nice playmate as him," and sent me out 
again into the cold. As I stood there on the blue snow, 
looking in at the brat playing with his toys and munching 
cookies in the warm, well-lighted parlor, what was there to 
do in all God's world but feel sorry for myself? What other 

82 



In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Lowenbrau 

emotion was there available to me then, or some years later, 
when the following incident occurred? 

The time was the great depression when, freshly armed 
with a college degree, I got a job in a Chicago lumberyard. 
Sometimes I worked outside stacking lumber, sometimes In 
the office at clerical tasks. There w r as another youth in the 
office, who prided himself on the facility with which he 
could "dig up a couple of quail." Once, he fixed me up with 
a blind date and then at the last minute backed out, leaving 
me to fend for myself with a girl I had never seen before, 
who lived on a street I had never heard of, in a quarter of 
town w r here I had never been. In view of all this, and because 
it was pouring rain, I decided to set out early, directly from 
the lumberyard. Having neither hat nor umbrella, I made a 
dash to the second-hand Hupmobile I then owned, wearing a 
typewriter hood. As I stood with my head in the hood, un- 
locking the car door, I sensed that I was launched on one of 
those strings of mishaps that must simply run their course. 

I w r as glad to see the rain stop, presently, for, after blun- 
dering about looking for the girl's street, which was called 
Emerald Avenue, I had to get out to ask directions of a 
group of men gathered beside the curb. When I approached 
them, I saw that they were gazing dow r n sadly at a dog that 
had evidently been done in by a hit-and-run motorist. I 
couldn't very well ask them where Emerald Avenue was it 
would have seemed too frivolous so after standing in the 
circle with them for a while, looking down at the dog also, 
I got back in my car and drove off. 

I found the girl's place at last, and soon was sorry that 
I had. She was a butterball in yellow wool, as round and 
about as high as the hassock on which she remained seated 
while she read aloud to me a poem she had just written. She 
was one of the many social-conscience poets spawned by the 
depression, and she expressed her scorn for tradition and her 



In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Lowenbrau 

love for the working classes by rhyming "duet" with "suet." 
For a poem intended to be inflammatory, this one had re- 
markable sedative properties, especially for a man who had 
been stacking two-by-fours all day. However, I managed to 
murmur a few words of praise, and then, in the manner of 
more hedonistic types of that era, I patted the couch on 
which I had contrived to dispose myself and said, "Lie down. 
I want to talk to you." 

Instead, we had to run out to Clearing, a remote western 
section of the city, and pick up some petitions. They were 
mimeographed manifestoes addressed to the Secretary of 
Labor, demanding action of some sort or other on a current 
industrial dispute. It was now raining cats and dogs again, 
in addition to which we ran out of gas halfway to our desti- 
nation. A quick investigation in the rain revealed a filling sta- 
tion a quarter of a mile ahead, at the foot of a long slope 
fifty feet from the top of which we were stalled. If we could 
just push the car those fifty feet, we could coast the rest of 
the way or, rather, if / could, for someone had to steer. 

So I got behind the Hupmobile in the pouring rain and 
shoved, again wearing the typewriter hood for foul-weather 
gear. Once or twice I lifted the front of it off my face to look 
through the back window and make faces at the girl, sitting 
there nice and dry behind the wheel. I was, of course, feeling 
sorry for myself. Why not? What had any self-respecting 
man recourse to under those circumstances but some solid, 
honest solicitude for himself? It was precisely the self-pity 
that enabled me to get through the evening at all "You poor 
boy," I said aloud, soaked to the skin and grunting sterto- 
rously behind the inching Hupmobile as the rain fell in tor- 
rents on my cowl. "If she really loved the working classes, 
she'd give you better proof of it on a night like this than 
reading aloud that half-baked Auden and then making you 
chase clear out to Clearing to get petitions from some sod 



In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Lowenbrau 

who probably hasn't done a lick of work In his life either." 
And so on. 

This line of thinking got me through not only that night 
but that week. Because that was the week I lost my job, had 
the Hupmobile repossessed, and flunked a medical examina- 
tion for an insurance policy I was trying to take out for the 
benefit of my mother, who had no one in the world but me. 
What was then indicated was a real wallow in the nearest 
bar, where I drank bottle after bottle of my favorite beer, 
Lowenbrau, followed by several hours of Tchaikovsky on 
the phonograph at home. I played the last movement of the 
Sixth, the adagio lamentoso, over and over, accompanying 
the New York Philharmonic on my own clarinet, walking 
around the room as I did so in long woollen underwear, 
which was how I had heard Yehudi Menuhin practiced the 
violin. The music is sheer mush but I managed, in its pauses, 
to interpolate some even treaclier arpeggios of my own, 
sometimes augmenting my contribution by howling like a 
dog, sometimes standing before a pier glass as I played, and 
giving myself in the mirror a bittersweet smile of under- 
standing and sympathy. 

I will cite one more example of the use and value of self- 
pity as a way of coping with reality, not selected at random, 
as were the foregoing, but chosen specifically to show that 
the emotion under review is not always unilateral, or "nar- 
cissistic," but can and does often involve a sense of other 
people. 

In the town where I now live there is a woman, middle- 
aged and recently widowed, whom I knew fairly well at the 
time I ran into her at a political clambake last summer. The 
discussion at our table got around to the stock market, and 
I remembered a hot new security I had just learned about 
from some friends of mine, men high up in Wall Street. It 

85 



In Dejeme of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Loivenbrdu 

was one of those low-priced issues selling in the category 
reminiscent of hat sizes 6%, 7%, and the like so-called 
"growth stocks," which, because of some electronic break- 
through or a fat government contract, are bound to soar 
within a few months to many times their original value. 
Should I recommend the stock to this widow? I thought fast 
Quick thinking has got me into more than one jam, and 
before I knew it I was urging her to sell everything her hus- 
band had left her and put it into Astro-Nucleonics, Inc. It 
was essential, I told her when she took me aside later to ask 
for further particulars, that anybody interested move quickly, 
as news of the government contract the firm was getting 
would be public knowledge in a few days, after which the 
stock would begin its skyrocketing. 

The woman did as I suggested, but she need not have hur- 
ried. The government contract fell through and the stock 
sank within a month to z 1 /^, where it is now, paying no 
dividends. 

I have spent most of my time since then avoiding this 
woman. I saw her recently on the main street of town, wear- 
ing a shawl and pulling along two little girls, equally shabbily 
dressed. They are evidently in classic penury. I ducked into 
an alley till they were gone. The following Saturday morn- 
ing, as I was padding through town in sneakers and smoked 
glasses, trying to get some weekend shopping done, I saw 
them again, and again ducked for cover. I waited till I 
thought the coast was clear, but it wasn't. When I stepped 
out onto Main Street once more, there they were, coming 
out of the five-and-dime, the mother clutching a brown sack 
that had an air of containing materials for all of them to 
twist into paper flowers, for sale to kind neighbors and 
people hurrying to the theatre. They were heading straight 
toward me. 

86 



In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Loixenbrdu 

If there was anything for me to do but flatten myself Into 
the nearest doorway, gritting my teeth and cursing my luck, 
I would like to know what it was. Here I was, established at 
last in a fine community in which I had spent years putting 
down roots, with my own house, where I could sit, after a 
day's w T ork, in a spacious glassed-in living room high on a 
hill, overlooking my defects and now this. What a rotten 
break! I might have to leave town. 

The woman had seen me, and stopped on the sidewalk In 
front of the doorway. She faced me squarely. "Any more 
bright ideas, Mister Financial Expert?" 

"I'll buy it back at what you paid for it," I offered, step- 
ping out. 

"No, thanks. We don't take charity." 

"Then won't you join me in some lunch?" I said, for the 
place before which we stood happened to be the Chinese 
Gardens, newly opened. "I hear the food is very good here." 

"Thank you again. The answer Is still the same." 

Now, the woman had no one to blame but herself for the 
difficulty she was in. Anyone who listens to every damn fool 
with a tip on the stock market deserves what he gets and 
that includes me for listening to the hot shots no less than 
her for listening to me. Nevertheless, I felt wretched. We 
were in this together no man is an island, her misfortunes 
were mine, and so on and so on, till there was nothing for it 
but to go into the Chinese Gardens alone and head for the 
booth nearest the bar, there to drown my miseries in Lowen- 
brau. I ordered glass after glass of my beloved brew, which 
they had on draft there, and also an egg roll and a plate of 
pressed duck. I had more beers than I can remember. Later, 
the waiter brought a few fortune cookies, one of which I 
picked up and began abstractedly to eat without first remov- 
ing the prognostication. It was not until I had been chewing 

87 



In Defense of Self-pity; or, Prelude to Lowenbrau 

it for some moments that I detected an alien sensation, and, 
turning to look into the small wall mirror in the booth, stuck 
my tongue out and found adhering to it, sure enough, a small 
strip of paper on which appeared the assertion that I must 
be careful in money matters. Still gazing into the mirror, 
I shook my head, as though to say to myself, "How do you 
stand it?" 

The whole point I am trying to make, of course, is that 
that is how I stand it. I bend in order that I do not break. 
I see it through by frankly and freely embracing the total 
human outrage of which I form a modest part, a minuscule 
fragment in a hostile, or at any rate incomprehensible, Whole. 
Contemplating myself in the glass with a fragment of tissue 
hanging out of my mouth, or clarinetting away in woollen 
drawers, I know that there is nothing else quite like me in the 
universe at the moment, and this is a kind of comfort. Doing 
these things is a way of affirming myself, of upholding the 
dignity of man, if you will, or at least a little of my end of it. 
I will never understand the theory of relativity, but I have 
an excellent picture of Einstein with his tongue hanging out 
a mile. He apparently stuck it out for the photographers 
a request few would rate in this world, and fewer still feel 
secure enough to comply with. Anyone doing it in private 
is operating at the other end of the status spectrum. Any- 
how, the photograph is a newspaper clipping, which I keep 
in a drawer and take out occasionally to look at, though not 
often, and not for very long at a time, since it is a little rich 
for my blood. 

Self-pity, in conclusion, hurts nobody else, offering, in- 
deed, an interior mood all the more conducive to giving 
others their external due. I never beat my wife, except at 
double Canfield, or even ever speak a harsh word to the 
woman. I am not boasting about this, either, because the 



The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, Tm Explicating 

explanation for it is obvious. A man busy nursing his own 
wounds has no time to inflict them on others. 



THE HIGH GROUND; OR, 
LOOK, MA, FM EXPLICATING 

WHEN the helpmate pointed out how I tended to mumble 
and grunt in confrontation with paintings and other works 
of art, and suggested I might try framing my reactions in 
more articulate English, or at least sentences that parsed, 
I was at first resentful. I remembered T. S. Eliot's remark 
about how r he hated being pressed for his opinions when 
strolling through galleries and museums, preferring to ac- 
cumulate and discharge them at his leisure, if at all. Yet that 
position is hardly tenable under circumstances such as formed 
the occasion for my wife's whispered stricture the black- 
tie opening of a one-man retrospective that we attended with 
some newly acquired friends, Bill and Jessie Gmelch. Such 
an event is in its nature half social something one cannot 
in all conscience negotiate with a mouthful of teeth. So I 
made an effort to hitch up my responses onto a plane more 
nearly approximating that of ordered evaluation with re- 
sults that surprised and, I must say, delighted me. 

"What we have here seems to me an organic fusion of 
form and content," I said, of an oil before which we four 
collectively stood, shortly after the murmured complaint for 
which the helpmate had momentarily drawn me out of the 
Gmelches' hearing, "one in which linear and compositional 
values are also happily resolved. I like especially the juxta- 
position of contrasts, which are at once subtle and intrepid, 
forthright without being obtrusive." 

89 



The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, Tm Explicating 

Bill Gmelch nodded, tapping against pursed lips a catalogue 
which he had rolled into a tube. "Hmm," Jessie said, gazing 
at the picture. I continued. 

"The amalgamation of subject and object, which was but 
tentatively realized in the artist's earlier period in such 
efforts as the Blue Configuration over there, where an osten- 
sibly abstract intention is still somewhat qualified by repre- 
sentational elements seems to me consummately achieved 
in this more recent City Modality, where the object -qua 
object, the Ding an sich, if you will, disappears in the chro- 
matic boil." 

"Oh, there are the McConkeys," Jessie said, and made for 
the new arrivals, hastily followed by Bill. The helpmate again 
waited till they were out of earshot. Then she said, "Go back 
to the way you were." 

This was more easily said than done. When a man has 
found his tongue on the level I had, the cat is not likely to 
get it again very soon. I could hardly wait for the next 
chance to practice my newly discovered gift, which was 
like a heady wine. It came the very next week when we at- 
tended an all-Chopin concert by a Brazilian pianist, again 
with the Gmelches. 

"Like him?" Bill said in the lobby during the intermission, 
eying me warily as he shook a cigarette from a pack. "I think 
he's good. His reading of the sonata struck me as especially 
fine." 

"Except in the slow movement," I said, "where I detected 
a certain viscosity in the phrasing. Also his tempi were at 
times heretical, to say the least, notably in the more reflective 
passages, where the lyrical intent of the original was distorted 
by an overinflation of its rhythmic values, I thought. I find 
the performance in general somewhat marred by a willful 
pyrotechnicality, which repeatedly sacrifices the composer's 



The High Gromid; or, Look, Ma, P?n Explicating 

avowed melodic line to a heedless personal panache. Where 
is everyone going?" 

Bill gesticulated through the doorway to a bar across the 
street, sucking back a large mouthful of smoke. "Time for a 
quick one before the buzzer." 

I chased them through a light drizzle, shouting explications 
lost in the noise of the traffic and then that of the bar, which 
discouraged all but the small talk into which my three com- 
panions seemed, for some reason, eagerly to plunge. I lis- 
tened with abstracted smiles to their gossip as I mentally 
drafted amplifications of the points I had raised. I was now 
beginning to wonder about Eliot. The pleasures of pontifica- 
tion were none he had ever passed up in his prose writings! 

Something or other w r as causing a steady decline in the 
Gmelches 1 state of mind. They were in quite a foul humor 
when we got up to our place for a nightcap after the con- 
cert. I noticed them whispering angrily together in a corner 
of the living room, glancing in my direction and breaking 
off as I approached with brandies. Evidently a little domestic 
spat of some sort. It showed me how urgent the need for a 
bit of stimulating talk. A ne\v novel, lying on a coffee table, 
offered just the opportunity. 

"I felt it a distinct advance over the author's previous 
work," I said, "particularly compelling in its portrayal of 
the slob as counter-culture. Here the grubby romanticism of 
asphalt vagabondage, long familiar to us in a rash of c road j 
fiction from those still into words, is elevated into an out- 
right arraignment of the work ethos as more puritanic dregs. 
Especially notable are the scenes in which the protagonist 
takes to the streets and asks nonentities for their autographs, 
as Whitmanesque gestures of democracy. Would, alas, the 
style were more Whitmanesque." 

They all watched in hangdog silence as I packed and lit a 
pipe. 



The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, Fm Explicating 

"My quarrel Is not that It's recycled Faulkner what Isn't 
these days but that rhetoric is, en principe, incongruous 
with so putatively skeptical a vision. Let me just get the book 
and read a passage illustrating" 

"No." Both Gmelches spoke as they rose simultaneously 
and stood with clenched fists, as though prepared to bar my 
passage to the book with physical force if necessary. "We 
have to toddle along," Bill said, levelly. "We have to get up 
tomorrow," Jessie explained. The helpmate now climbed to 
her feet, like a third guest I must see to the door. Until we 
actually reached it, there was the eeriest sense that she might 
Indeed sail through it and out into the night, remembering 
only at the last moment that she lived here. 

"Well, you've driven them away," she said when we were 
alone. "Probably for good. In God's name, can't you stop it? 
Talking like that?" 

"It would be dishonest to guarantee anything. Once you've 
got the hang of something " 

"Then I'll guarantee something. That I can't take much 
more of this phase. Look. We're all going to the Bilkingtons' 
cocktail party Saturday, and you'd damn well better talk 
United States there, is all I can say, Buster." 

The helpmate's misgivings were not without foundation. 
Bo Bilkington is a tired businessman who encourages canards 
such as that he carries a hip flask to the opera. When he 
shakes hands, he will fold his fingers back two joints, so that 
you think you are grasping stumps, and say, with a laugh, 
"Lost 'em on a minesweeper." Saturday evening saw me 
being greeted again in that vein, and smilin' through in my 
ow r n, as I rolled an eye around the apartment to see who was 
on deck. A large mixture of friends and strangers. Plucking 
a drink from a passing tray, I made for a group at the far 
end of the living room who were listening to an L.P. of some 



The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, Pm Explicating 

new poet reading his stuff an album entitled "Vibes," of 
which I caught the last ten minutes. 

"Like it?" Jenny Bilkington said, when the stereo had 
clicked off. 

There were murmurs of approval, a few polite shrugs and 
exclamations. I could feel the helpmate's eye on me, though 
from behind. I made an effort to get a grip on myself. The 
brief, foredoomed struggle of a man hooked on exegesis. I 
cleared my throat as Jenny moved to play the flip side. 

"I find it on the whole creditable of its kind, allowing for 
the element of naivete in colloquial art generally," I said. 
"The style is basically folk collage rather than formalized 
song, of course. The use of slang, cliches, and the like, wedged 
arbitrarily into what systematic verse there is, offers a liter- 
ary counterpart of the 'found objects' incorporated into con- 
temporary junk sculpture yet another example of the frag- 
mentation that has marked our art for half a century, reflect- 
ing a dilapidated Western psyche. Each generation espouses 
its argot with more bravado than the last (the hippie lexicon 
is almost all cult verbiage), a development hardly surprising, 
for in the beginning may have been the word but the end is 
always jargon." 

"How about that?" said Bo. He glanced wretchedly over 
at another group as he reached for his highball. "Let's " 

"I liked especially the passage beginning, 'What availeth it 
a lawn mower?/ as a wry commentary on certain pernickety 
homeowning elements comprising in fact a culture in mid- 
slide. Also effective was the symbolism of the carpenter's 
apprentice who throws down his tools and leaves Scarsdale, 
as allusion to the current Jesus bag." 

The plan to hear a little of the flip side was abandoned 
as the group dispersed, to re-form into smaller knots of mut- 
tering guests. One especially exercised little cluster, inciden- 
tally including Bill Gmelch, were shaking their heads and 

93 



The High Ground; or, Look, Ma, P?n Explicating 

even their fists. A mob can be an ugly thing. I caught the 
words u be allowed out" and other such inflamed scraps. In 
this way the party now began to take more discernible shape. 
The helpmate grasped my hand at one point and towed me 
across the long living room to a group clear at the other end. 
"They're discussing movies," she said with a smile intended 
for public consumption, adding, through gritted teeth, "thank 
God." 

That lot were talking about a picture I happened to have 
seen, and so was fortunately able to join in the conversation. 
A groan went up from some woman as I approached, prob- 
ably someone bored with Al Herndon's two cents about the 
film, for he was holding forth in typical style on its merits. 
One thing is, he's loaded with inherited money, which always 
sets people's backs up. I stood with the flat of a hand against 
the wall, hearing him out like the rest. 

"The art that conceals art," I said the instant Plentykins 
paused for breath, "is nowhere more important than in the 
cinema, where we have such a variety of techniques to keep 
scrupulously in line. I found both the photography and the 
direction in Bus to Scranton obtrusive. The long coal-pit and 
slag-heap shots were beautifully realized as anti-scenery, but 
the close-ups became much too studied, as did the raffishness 
of the male principal, whose exposition of the role was an 
uneasy hash of Bogart and Mastroianni, which any director 
worth his salt could have disciplined. . . ." 

Among the last to arrive, we were the first to leave. The 
helpmate seemed anxious to get me alone in a taxicab. 

"Well, that tears it," she said as we sped for home. "Did 
you notice the Herndons and the Gmelches and the Busta- 
mentes talking about getting theatre tickets to something and 
breaking it off when we came up? We'll never be invited 
anywhere again, except to a dogfight. I swear I don't know 

94 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

what makes you tick. One minute you're the soul of conces- 
sion, the next you can't be budged, especially if it involves 
something that gives you some kind of subcutaneous gratifi- 
cation." 

"Can I help it if it's my mature period?" 

"Oh, God, who knows what anybody is like!" she said, 
ignoring me. "Before a woman can begin telling you what 
a prince you are, you've become a pain. You know what I 
think? 7 think," she went on, warming to her subject, "you 
mask a genuine aggression under a faade of compliance, and 
vice versa a sort of basic insecurity inside this husk of 
independence. You seem unable to divorce your societal 
from your ego drives, your gregarious from your competi- 
tional. . . ." 

She can go on like that for days. Ah, well, it's an age of 
criticism, isn't it? It's nothing if not that. 



THE INDEPENDENT VOTER 
AT TWILIGHT 

"YouR LIPS are sweet," I said, "sweeter than dayspring to the 
shipwrecked in Nova Zembla. Now what?" 

At six o'clock in the morning any husband looks like Early 
Alan, and my wife considered the flowers growing beside the 
terrace where we sat scalding ourselves with coffee as she 
said, "Now, try to get a look at the sticker on Jack Bronson's 
car at the station today. This is the third time Fve asked you, 
and I can't w r ait any longer if we're going to invite them." 

The Bronsons were a couple relatively new to the neigh- 
borhood, living in a converted bam a quarter of a mile from 

95 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

my own backslidden salt-box. They had had us for drinks 
once, and the cocktail party we were giving a week hence 
would be a convenient occasion to repay them, if their poli- 
tics were right. My wife and I, though firm in our opinions, 
are not intolerant of other people's, but some who would be 
on hand at the party were. I am thinking particularly of Fred 
Kitzbite. Fred is a hardened New Dealer who regards A.T. 
& TVs acquisition of outer space as a form of creeping capi- 
talism, which gives you some idea of the way his wind sock 
points. An equally rabid, or even a lukewarm, Republican 
present at the same party would make it one to which I 
would not care to play host. Campaigns for the forthcoming 
Connecticut elections had tempers -almost as short as during 
a Presidential year. Stickers declaring the loyalties of the 
ow r ners were sprouting on the windows and bumpers of cars 
everywhere. My wife had seen one on the rear bumper of 
the Bronsons' station wagon somewhere around town, but 
not closely enough to make out the name on it. The mere 
existence of the sticker seemed to indicate a firmness of con- 
viction sufficient to make the thoughtful hostess brief herself 
more fully on the Bronsons before throwing them in with 
the Kitzbites. 

"Bronson doesn't go in on the seven-ten," I said, rising to 
shave, "so the car won't be at the station when I get there." 

"But he comes home on a later train than you do, so it'll 
be there when you get back. It's that big Mercury with the 
squirrel tail on the aerial. Now, check it without fail." 

Trying to catch a few extra winks on the train, I remem- 
bered something Disraeli had said on this whole tricky sub- 
ject of entertaining. The exact quotation eluded me, but it 
goes something like, "Anybody inviting a group of people 
to dine in his house must first sit down and do some serious 
moral bookkeeping." 

Halfway in to the city, the air-conditioning broke down 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

a bad augury for a day that promised to be a scorcher. It 
was. When I got off the train that evening, one of a hundred 
toilers carrying their wilted coats, all I had on my mind was 
a shower and a cold bottle of beer. As I sped home with all 
the car windows down, I hoped that the clouds massing to 
the northwest meant that a good thundershower was on the 
way. 

"Well?" my wife asked \vhen I walked in the door. "What 
did the sticker say?" 

"Damn," I said. "It completely slipped my mind." 

After a rather sultry dinner, we sat on the terrace with 
iced coffee, watching those thunderheads building up in the 
distance like a mass of body bruises. We listened to the seven- 
o'clock news on a transistor radio. After the news came a 
gossip columnist who devoted his entire broadcast to a 
panegyric on the Princess of Monaco and the valor with 
which she has resisted the temptations of Hollywood. 

"I, too, admire Grace under pressure," I said, "but doesn't 
each of us in his humble, everyday " 

"Last month you forgot to send the mortgage check and 
the bank had to call us. Last week you forgot to mail that 
letter I gave you," my wife said. "I found it in your pocket 
when I sent your suit out to the cleaner's. You'd forget your 
head if it wasn't tied on." 

I lowered my head to my knees, so bowed down was I 
with the sense of domestic cliches, of absolutely abysmal 
platitudes in which a man seems at times engulfed. I was 
sitting like this when my sixteen-year-old son came out of 
the house and said, "Pop, can I have the car tonight? A bunch 
of us are going to the bowling alleys." He meant the car I 
drive to the station, my daughter having already gone off to 
the movies with the other. 

My wife and I went around to the front of the house to 
see him off, with reminders to drive carefully and to go 

91 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

directly to the bowling alleys and stay inside while it 
stormed, if it did. We were standing at the head of the 
driveway watching him make off down the road when the 
Bronsons themselves rode by, waving, in the other of their 
two cars, a Dodge sedan with no visible propaganda. 

"Out for the evening/' my wife said. "That means the 
station wagon's at the house. Now's your chance." 

"But I haven't got a car," I said. 

"It's not that much of a walk. You say yourself you need 
the exercise. If you want to be New Frontier, be New Fron- 
tier. Go ahead. It's cooled off now, and it won't storm for 
a bit." 

It didn't, but I was delayed in my departure by a telephone 
call that took a good twenty minutes. Dusk was falling when 
I set out down the road, and it deepened into premature 
nightfall as thunder that had seemed distant suddenly began 
to crack overhead. The first scattered drops quickened my 
walk into a brisk trot. I tried to affect the long, easy stride 
of the cross-country runner, remembering also to enclose my 
thumbs tightly in my fists, which, as a boy, I had always been 
told w r ould keep you from getting a stitch in your side. 

The Bronsons' place lay just beyond a dogleg in the road 
up ahead. I surmised that I would have to take shelter in it 
till the storm was over. I rounded the dogleg, swinging along 
smoothly, and saw that the station wagon was not in the 
driveway. It was in the garage, which had room in it for only 
one car, the other being presumably left outside. The garage 
was in any case shut and locked for the night, I found when 
I galloped to a stop behind it and tried the handle. 

I darted around the house in what was now a heavy down- 
pour, and found a side door, luckily unlocked. I ducked in- 
side. I stood there a moment getting my wind, and also my 
bearings. My eyes were not yet accustomed to the gloom 

9 8 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

of the interior, but a flash of lightning revealed that I seemed 
to be in a sort of utility room, or "dirty room," as it is some- 
times called. I groped along the walls for a light switch, with- 
out success. Just then I felt something soft and living between 
my feet, and gave an involuntary jump. My start caused the 
cat which a loud yelp from below proved it to be to 
become more aw r kwardly entangled in my feet, so that I lost 
my balance and pitched to the floor, clawing the air and 
bringing down with me what seemed to be a loaded clothes 
rack, judging from the masses of garments among w r hich I 
lay sprawled. I extricated myself and climbed once more to 
my feet. My spill had landed me clear at the other side of 
the room, where, after some more feeling along the wall, I 
finally did locate a light switch. 

It was the Bronsons' utility room, all right, crammed with 
laundry apparatus and smelling faintly of creosote. It had two 
doors, one leading into the house, the other down into the 
garage. The cat was nowhere to be seen. After hanging the 
Mackinaws and things back on the righted clothes rack, I 
descended the three steps into the garage. 

There was plenty of illumination from the utility room, 
but I still had no view of the rear bumper, which was a 
mere six or eight inches from the closed door. By putting 
my head into this narrow space, I could just barely catch a 
glimpse of the sticker and what seemed to be the initial "A." 
Whether that meant Abe Ribicoff, the Democratic candidate 
for senator, or any one of a host of other candidates for state 
and local offices w r as impossible to say. I would have to see 
more. And to do that I would have to open the garage door. 

One thing certain about the Bronsons was that they lived 
in cramped quarters. With my left hand I reached down to 
the lock assembly midway of the door, turned the triangular 
knob of the latch, and heard the crossbars snap free. I 
grabbed the handle and slid the door up. Even then I had to 

99 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

go all the way outside to see. When I had popped out, an- 
other flash of lightning brought the sticker vividly into view. 
What I saw made me shake my head as I popped back in 
again. 

I reversed my actions, closing doors and snapping out 
lights, and as I reached the utility room again, the storm 
suddenly let up. Even the rain had stopped, I saw when I 
had stepped outside, and, pulling that door shut, I started for 
home. 

I had forgotten the capriciousness of summer storms their 
habit, so to speak, of taking unpredictable encores. I was no 
more than halfway back when there was a deafening peal of 
thunder followed by a downpour that had me soaked to the 
skin in two minutes. The only protection from the rain was 
the trees to be eschewed, of course. Lightning had never 
seemed to me, till that night, the terrifying phenomenon it 
really is, probably because I had never been so nakedly ex- 
posed to it before. Now I was convinced it was splitting the 
trees on either side of the road up which I sped, splashing 
through pools already inches deep and muttering oaths for 
which I could ill spare the breath. Such of my hair as did not 
hang in my eyes was plastered to my ears. My legs felt like 
mangled rubber, and a nasty stitch was developing in my 
side, for all my care in keeping my thumbs clutched. I cursed 
all women and their social complications, and couldn't wait to 
get home and tell my wife what I had found. 

As I came down the stretch in the driveway, I saw that she 
was standing in the front hallway waiting for me. She held 
the screen door open as I stumbled, gasping like a drowning 
man, over the threshold, taking a keen pleasure in the mud I 
tracked on the rug. I continued into the living room, where 
I sank into a deep chair. I sat there for several minutes, cough- 
ing and spluttering, my arms hanging over the sides. She 

700 



The Independent Voter at Twilight 

stood with her own arms folded, watching the water drip 
from my clothes onto the carpet. 

"You'd better get out of those wet things," she said. 

I nodded. The storm was still crashing about the house, in 
a way that made one glad one had had lightning rods installed 
even while one reveled in the mad sense of "judgment" 
implicit in the blasting thunder, which gave one the momen- 
tary illusion of being, oneself, an angry god. She would get 
what she had coming to her in a minute. 

"Did you . . . ?" she began. 

I nodded again, a single, curt nod, as of a man who cannot 
speak until he has caught his breath. 

"What did it say?" she asked finally. 

I rolled wild eyes at her, fixing her with them for a mo- 
ment before answering. " 'Ausable Chasm,' " I said. 

She looked down at the floor, nodding. Then she gazed 
out the window, shifting from one foot to the other, her 
arms still folded. After a moment more, she took me by the 
hand and drew me out of the chair. "Come on upstairs, and 
I'll hang those clothes up for you and get you a fresh towel. 
Then I'll fix you a nice drink," she said. 

Traipsing in her wake to the bedroom, I pondered again 
this terrible orchestration of people known as hospitality, and 
wondered whether the Kennedys sweat as much blood over 
their guest lists as the Disraelis and we. 

"Why, what you found out tells us something" she said. 
"It's perfectly safe to invite them. They probably don't 
care about politics one w r ay or another." 

You know the rest. How the talk at the party got around 
to travel and vacations, and where everybody had been and 
where they would like to go. 

"Next summer, Joan and I want to go to Spain," Jack Bron- 
son said. 

101 



The Conversational Ball 

You could feel Fred Kitzbite stiffen, "You mean and sup- 
port Fascism?" he said. "You mean you think it's perfectly 
all right to bolster a regime like that with American dollars? 
To give it your\moral as well as financial support by spend- 
ing your money there?" 

"Now, look here," Bronson said, and the free-for-all was on. 

It was a shambles. It was a night to remember. Nobody we 
know has had the heart to get up a cocktail party since. 
Which is, after all, something. 



THE CONVERSATIONAL BALL 

I SUPPOSE it's true enough that women talk too much, and, 
conversely, husbands never listen. A proper conjunction of 
these two cliches of human conduct can produce a crisis of 
anything but trite proportions, as was proved by a recent 
incident of which I still bear the scars or will as soon as the 
wounds heal. Even now I have this queasy apprehension that 
the worst is yet to come. The qualm before the storm, you 
might say. 

I was drinking coffee in my favorite chair, one evening 
after dinner several weeks ago, when I dimly sensed that my 
wife was discoursing at length on something that perhaps re- 
quired closer attention than, through the fog of abstraction 
with which I listened, I was paying it. She was in fact relating 
a dream she had had, but, like a late theatregoer who has 
missed an essential piece of exposition, I didn't learn that until 
it was too late. I thought she was talking about something that 
had happened to her that day, or maybe the day before. 

"I was wearing my new slacks you know, the pink ones 
with the flower print," she was saying, "and I was walking 

102 



The Conversational Ball 

downtown. As I turned the corner and passed the library, I 
met Jack Brady. We stopped a minute to talk." 

"Oh? How is Jack?" I asked, showing some interest. 

"What?" 

"How is Jack?" 

"All right, I guess. Why? What has that got to do with it? 
You see him on the train." 

"Not every day. He doesn't even go in every day, as you 
know." I was only trying to keep the conversational ball roll- 
ing. "But go on. What then?" 

"Well, suddenly he looked down at my slacks and started 
to laugh. He asked whether they were new, and I said yes, 
and he laughed again." 

"Why, that son of a bitch," I said. "It's just like him, though. 
Jack likes to think he's the answer to every woman's prayer, 
but he's really a pain in the pancreas. So what happened then? 
What did you say?" 

"Well, naturally I took offense, and asked him what he 
meant. He kind of looked away and said what he meant was 
that I was one of the few women who understood the art of 
dressing absurdly. He was trying to cover up, you see." 

"He's a lout. Yet at the same time mealymouthed. Then 
what?" 

"Then I left him, and hadn't gone far up Main Street when 
I was glad to run into Louise Maley, dressed in slacks, like 
me, and I told her what Jack Brady had said. Then we 
decided to have a cup of tea together. . . ." 

Here my attention wandered again from an account of 
what was an apparently interminable ramble through town. 
Catching a word here and there to keep some vague connec- 
tion with the thread of the narrative, I turned over in my 
mind the prospects of lunch in town the next day with an 
office colleague of tender years and notable charms. I men- 
tally sorted out the various midtown restaurants from among 

105 



The Conversational Ball 

which a choice might be made, occasionally turning to nod 
at my wife with the expression of an intelligent listener. 

I forgot about the whole thing until the next morning 
when I caught sight of Jack Brady in the bar car on the way 
to the city, and I bristled. The bar car is not serving at that 
hour, of course, but Jack is one of the habitues who ride it 
then in anticipation of the evening return, when it is. His 
eyes seemed a little bleary now, probably the result of a heavy 
load the night before, and I hoped for his sake he had had a 
few when he had insulted my wife. I could clearly not let 
that pass, though obviously I would not stop to make an issue 
of it in public even the low-consciousness public repre- 
sented by the score or so of somnambulists slumped behind 
their Timeses. I returned his greeting with a curt snub, and 
went on through to a coach farther up front. 

Settled down in a seat there, I found myself unable to con- 
centrate on my own Times. The challenge I must raise, and 
the "satisfaction" I would positively require, hung like a 
cloud over my day. Well before we reached the city, I had 
decided to have it out the minute we pulled into Grand Cen- 
tral. 

I was waiting for him at the train gate as he made his way 
along the station platform. 

"Jack?" I said, accosting him. 

"Hi," he said. "What is it?" He looked really awful, close 
up. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he was coughing into a 
handkerchief. He had evidently caught a heavy summer cold. 

"I want to talk to you a minute. Let's step over here." 

With a jerk of my head, I led the way back inside the train 
gate and toward a baggage cart, behind which it seemed to 
me we could most decently have this thing out. We both had 
on gabardine suits, and we were swinging attache cases of the 
same shape, color, and size, and I had a brief, Surrealist vision 
of two commuters flailing one another to death with identical 

104 



The Conversational Ball 

luggage reductio ad absurdum of the Age of Conformity. 
Well, chivalry, at least, was not dead. 

When we were out of view, I turned and faced him 
squarely. 

"Look, fellow, I take exception to that crack you made to 
my wife/' I said. 

a What crack?" he said. "What are you talking about?" 

"You know very well what I mean. The slacks. That seem 
to refresh your memory, Jack?" 

His face was something to behold as he coughed again into 
the handkerchief, which he had not yet pocketed, looking 
away and shaking his head in puzzlement. "When was this?" 

I opened my mouth to answer several times before a lull in 
his coughing fit permitted. The whole thing was like some 
dream. "Don't stall. It doesn't become you, and hardly serves 
to dignify this thing. You know very well when this was, and 
what it was. It so happens that I think my wife looks very 
good in slacks." 

"Why, none better, man, but whah ?" 

"Soft soap will get you nowhere. We don't behave toward 
women that way that's the long and the short of it. I de- 
mand an apology, not to me but to her," I said, and added, 
tapping him on the chest, "and I demand it by tonight!" With 
that, I turned on my heel and marched out of the station. 

As can be imagined, my day in the city was not in the least 
brightened by the relief of having spoken up and got that part 
of it over with. It was a rotten day, hardly improved when 
this office colleague of mine turned out to be busy for lunch. 
"I have a date with this, um, friend I met at the party in Tea- 
neck I was telling you about," she said. She was apparently 
ignorant of the present-day vogue decreeing that young girls 
be seen in the best restaurants with older men, nor had I the 
time or the strength to try to bring her au courant just now. I 

205 



The Conversational Ball 

had a grilled-cheese sandwich sent up to my office, and re- 
lieved my solitude by munching it into suggestive shapes. It 
had come uncut, and I was able, by careful nibbling from 
the crusts inward, to mold it into a very satisfactory female 
silhouette which I immediately defaced into a lampoon of 
this office colleague by adding the two pickle slices for big 
feet, and making a funny hat of strands of the coleslaw that 
accompanied the sandwich in a small fluted cup, complete 
with disposable plastic fork. I had this composition laid out 
on the wax wrapper on top of my desk, and was admiring 
the effect as I sipped iced tea from a container w r hen my tele- 
phone rang. It was my wife. 

"What. In God's name. Have you done. Now?" she said, 
spacing her words in the dramatically clipped manner of one 
long burdened with the need for some device to express utter 
and total exasperation. 

"Why? What have I done now?" 

u jack Brady just called me, from the city" 

"As damn well he might. I buttonholed him this morning 
and insisted on an apology." 

"What for?" 

"For that crack he made about your slacks. What else?" 

"That's what I thought." There was a long sigh, after 
which she said, "Now, look. Are you listening very carefully 
now, for once? Because this time What's that guzzling 
noise? Are you drinking something?" 

"Just some iced tea. In my office. But shoot. What's this 
all about?" 

"It's all about some more confusion created by your not 
paying any attention to anything anyone tells you. But listen 
very closely now. That was a dream I was telling you about,, 
not something that happened. Jack didn't say it to me, I 
dreamed he did, that's all. Now have you got it straight?" 

"Oh, good Lord," I said. "I'm sorry. I've made a mess of 

2 06 



The Conversational Ball 

things. Poor Jack. And you, too. I'm terribly sorry. But I'll 
make it up to you, and I'll square it with Jack, too, tonight 
on the -" 

"No. The best thing is to forget about the whole business. 
I think I handled it the only way. He really did call to 
apologize, figuring he had said something to me after a few 
drinks at that beach party the other night. It wouldn't be the 
first time he couldn't remember what he said to somebody. It's 
always happening to him. I just said that you had misunder- 
stood what I'd told you a mixup for everybody to forget 
as soon as possible. I didn't tell him the truth. Confusion now 
hath made his masterpiece, but I do think it's better this way, 
and lets him off just as well. So just turn it off if he brings it 
up, and buy him a drink. And maybe after this you'll listen 
when somebody's talking to you. Goodbye!" 

The aftermath can be readily imagined. I listen attentively 
these days when nothing much is being said. The corrosive 
silences are, however, gradually beginning to diminish in both 
length and severity, and despite the occasional twinges of 
apprehension that the worst is yet to come, I hope that things 
will soon be back to normal. Meanwhile, there was a kind of 
epilogue to the whole episode that rounds it off in a rather 
neat fashion, I think. 

This business colleague came into my office one day to 
announce that the courtship by the chap in Teaneck had 
proved to be whirlwind, and flashed a ring to prove it. She 
then hemmed and hawed a moment in a way that indicated 
she had a favor to ask. 

"I don't know what to give him for a wedding present, per- 
sonally, from me," she said, "and I was wondering if you 
might have any suggestions. Get the point of view of a man 
who's more, um, seasoned." 

"If you're free for lunch, we can discuss it," I said. 

707 



Adventures of a People Buff 

I knew instantly what to suggest, but didn't spring my idea 
till we were well into our brandies. "By all means give him a 
leather club chair," I said. "A plain. Old-fashioned. Leather 
club chair is what every man wants but nobody ever thinks 
of getting him. Go to Macy's. I got mine there." 

She nodded thoughtfully, while I smiled inscrutably to my- 
self, knowing what she did not know but would soon enough, 
learn: to wit, the sequel to the fairy tale that she was, for a 
brief moment, living. The princess is awakened from her 
sleep by the kiss of a true lover, all right enough, but that's 
not the end of the story by a long shot. Some of us are 
familiar with the fuller version, which is never told. How 
they get married, and how after dinner they sit down to- 
gether and she begins to talk to him. And she talks and she 
talks, till at last his head nods on his chest, and he sleeps, for- 
ever, and ever, and ever. 



ADVENTURES OF A PEOPLE BUFF 

CALL ME a people buff. I like people. And among my favor- 
ites, at the moment, must certainly be ranked the Cox Thim- 
ble Drome people of Santa Ana, California, manufacturers of 
a line of model planes of which I recently bought their one- 
cylinder-engine SBzC, popularly known as the Helldiver. I 
had been medically urged to get myself a hobby a little more 
active than lounging around with a highball after a day in 
the city, mentally reviewing the human specimens, each more 
absurd than the last, that I had encountered in the course of 
it. "I mean that's all right," the doctor said when I told him 
what I did for hacks, "but it hardly tones up the system or 
provides any exercise. Also, you should get out more." So I 

108 



Adventures of a People Buff 

bought this plane, of the sort I had seen people flying in open 
fields at the ends of guidestrings, apparently quite happily, 
and flew it once. Its uncollected fragments lie in the yard 
beneath the living-room window one of those picture win- 
dows composed of two panes of plate glass slightly spaced to 
provide insulation and called Twindows by an outfit also high 
on my list and I have reverted to the tamer but safer 
pastime of stretching out with a drink to contemplate the 
clothed mammal. 

The Helldiver people are wonderful. Contact with their 
product was brief and catastrophic, but I still spend many 
fascinated hours poring over the set of instructions in which 
they stated in plain English that it probably would be; and 
which seem to have been systematically devised, for that 
reason, to put any likelihood of a takeoff safely out of the 
purchaser's reach. Consider, for example, the errant charm of 
this paragraph, which the greenhorn encounters early on in 
the set of directions, after some preliminary portents of the 
total demolition in store for anyone fool enough to think he 
can get the upper hand: 

"Your Thimble Drome Helldiver is much too beautiful 
and expensive to use as a training ship to learn to fly. Trainer 
planes made for this purpose are much less expensive to learn 
to fly with because they are much less vulnerable to crash 
damage. It might be wise to buy a PT-ip Thimble Drome 
Trainer for learning to fly as this ship is especially built to 
absorb hard crash landings without damage. The catalog 
number is 5700 and the price is $10.00." 

Now, an outlay of twenty clams for the Helldiver as a 
roundabout way of coming by the information that you 
should have bought something else instead is not, I think, 
exorbitant, as good advice is always worth paying for, and 
these people seem to know their business. I hurried out to buy 
the lesser model, but, unable to locate a merchant in town 

109 



Adventures of a People Buff 

who stocked it, hurried home again to make do with the 
better. The briefing now sternly warned against the use of 
any fuel other than something called Thimble Dprome Racing 
Fuel, so I put on my coat and hat again (observing to myself 
that I was certainly getting out more) and rushed off to buy 
a can of that. My mission this time was more fruitful, and I 
was soon home again, settled down to the phase having to do 
with fueling and starting the engine. 

Here the Helldiver people's genius for frustrating their 
clientele proves to be at its most disarming. They speak 
tantalizingly of a carburetor needle valve, which you are sup- 
posed to close before you make another move, and direct you 
to Figure 4. But nowhere in Figure 4 is the nature of the part 
indicated or its location specified. Love that firm. I found out 
where the needle valve was, however, thanks to some drag I 
have at a local repair garage, of which the head mechanic is 
a friend of mine, and then, back home again for let's see 
the third time, with the engine fueled, I proceeded to the 
business of starting it. 

The instructions said, "Squirt a few drops of fuel into the 
exhaust port. This is called priming." No exhaust port in 
Figure 4, either. Here I outwitted the makers by gathering 
up my model and taking it to the boy next door a plucky 
lad of ten whom I had seen and heard flying a small plane 
similar to mine behind his house and he showed me how to 
start it. I was now ready for the final stage of my prepara- 
tions the actual flying of the plane. Here I was dealt the 
worst blow of all For a full comprehension of it, we must 
return briefly to my medical picture. 

I happen to be subject to something known as Meniere's 
syndrome, a malfunction of the mechanism in the inner ear 
which is responsible for equilibrium, and which can convert 
the visible world into a carrousel without warning. Things 
become bollixed up firmament-wise, with attendant nausea. 



no 



Adventures of a People Buff 

People so afflicted tend by instinct to avoid sudden moves, 
especially those involving circular actions of the head. Friends 
never have to say to us "Don't look now," because long 
habits of deliberation would make us about-face slowly if 
told "There's a panther behind you." Even the quarter turn 
necessary to dismount a soda-fountain stool is enacted with 
caution for fear of starting a bout of vertigo, which might be 
described to the uninitiated as roughly resembling an unde- 
served hangover, or a kind of mal de mer on dry land. 

It can be imagined with what dismay, therefore, I en- 
countered this paragraph in the instruction leaflet: 

"If you have no previous experience you must accustom 
yourself to turning around counterclockwise until you can 
turn 20 times or so without becoming excessively dizzy. This 
is necessary whether you start flying with this ship or any 
other. Turn only 3 or 4 times the first time. Repeat after a 
half hour. Next day try 6 turns repeat after a half hour. In 
a week or less you should be ready to fly." 

To a man who can scarcely orbit a smorgasbord table with- 
out losing his balance, not to mention his appetite, this is a 
crusher. It could be the coup de grace to one not made of 
sterner stuff than the Helldiver people seem to take for 
granted. I thought first I might duck this entire problem by 
not revolving on my axis in conformity with the plane's over- 
head circles at all but simply standing still in the middle of a 
field, steadily passing my end of the guideline around myself 
from hand to hand, closing my eyes so I wouldn't see the 
plane, and trying not to retch. But this sort of thing will not 
work, as one glance at anybody flying a model plane will 
indicate. You have to move around, you have to keep your 
eye on things every second to maintain the steady rotating 
flight required. No, there was nothing for it, if I was de- 
termined not to be daunted, but to practice the pivoting 
exercises suggested, as prelude to any actual flying. 



Adventures of a 'People Buff 

I picked a spot behind the garage where I would not be 
observed, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began. I 
rotated slowly, making a half turn first, then a full. I took a 
rest, and after a few minutes decided to try for two. I was 
very gratified to note I could manage two, but my exhilara- 
tion was short-lived. When I opened my eyes again, it was to 
find myself heading straight into a lilac bush. The next time, 
I blundered into a wheelbarrow, thinking I was headed in 
another direction altogether, such was rny disorientation. I 
decided to quit for the day and try again the next. I returned 
to the house, marveling, as I often do, at the spins executed 
by ballet dancers as a complete matter of course. 

It occurred to me that there was no need to be practicing 
my rotations in the yard just because I would be flying the 
plane there, or hoped to. So I did them in the living room, 
the bedroom, even at the office, whenever I was alone and 
happened to have a spare moment. One Saturday morning, 
my wife entered the dining room in time to see me march 
into the side of a china cabinet, bruising my nose and flat- 
tening a cigar butt I happened to have clenched in my teeth. 

"Why don't you give this thing up?" she said. "You know 
it's no use." 

I rushed downstairs to the recreation room, where the plane 
was, snatched it up, rushed outside into the back yard, started 
it up, and let it go. I had read the instruction leaflet through 
in full two or three times by now, and, despite the manu- 
facturer's obscurantism, had absorbed a few things about the 
care necessary in takeoff, both in terms of the plane and the 
guidelines attached to it (to the left wing, to command this 
counterclockwise circle), but I forgot all that now in my 
frenzy and just let the infernal thing rip. I can't say it went 
out of control, because it never was under control, nor did I 
pause to try to get it so. The caution to make sure takeoff 
was downwind (in contrast to that of a real plane) was prob- 

112 



Adventures of a People Bziff 

ably accidentally observed, for the ship rose with a rush. It 
shot off to the right until all the slack was out of the guide- 
lines, at which point it snapped violently back, like a bolting 
animal on a leash, made several crazy gyrations as a cross- 
wind caught it, and then, after describing one more erratic 
loop, came straight at me. 

I dropped the guidelines and ran for the house, beginning 
to gag a little. My feet got tangled up in the lines, which was 
probably what saved my life, because I tripped and fell as 
the plane shot by where my head had just been. It went over 
with its insane whine, then must have got caught in a sudden 
updraft, for it rose with a jerk, leveled off, and made at full 
speed for the Twindow. 

I heard but did not see the crash, being still bent on saving 
my own hide. I had recovered my footing, and now scuttled 
around a corner of the house. As a haven of refuge, however, 
this nook of the property left nearly as much to be desired as 
the open peril I had just fled. There is a short, abrupt declivity 
in the lawn there, and as I started across it my foot met a 
patch of residual winter ice, along which I shot precipitately, 
and with that slightly delirious sense of having to accelerate 
momentum on a slippery surface in order to keep upright. I 
rushed down the slope, arms out, swooped full-tilt across a 
narrow gravel walk, and wound up espaliered against the side 
of the garage. 

Well, it was just such a calamity as the Helldiver people 
envisioned for tyros foolhardy enough to try the SBiC, and 
my hat is off to them. With the lengths of surgical gauze 
currently turbaning my brow, I can't wear it anyway. 

I was stretched out on the living-room couch one Sunday 
afternoon shortly after washing out of the model air force 
when I began to hear the steady, rasping drone that meant 
the boy next door was outside flying his plane in the open 

7/3 



Adventures of a People Buff 

lot between our houses. I had decided to forgive the Hell- 
diver people for their handling of the crucial element in my 
fiasco. I know it concerned a defect in me, not in their mer- 
chandise. Still, I think they should not have given the prob- 
lem the emphasis they did in their leaflet, or perhaps even 
brought the subject up, since by doing so they introduced a 
note of anxiety and tension into a pastime that many people 
take up precisely to relieve anxiety and tension. Many au- 
thorities consider the Meniere syndrome psychogenic any- 
way, and you only double the hazard by calling attention to 
it. No, they should not have opened that can of peas. 

I rose and went to the Twindow and stood gazing out of 
it with my hands in my pockets. The Twindow itself was, 
fortunately, not broken. 

The late- January day was bright and cold, and I could see 
the plane circling in the clear air, just above the level of some 
intervening treetops, round and around with absolute pre- 
cision, like a bird against the blue sky. I had followed its 
flight for several minutes when I began to realize something 
very exciting. I was perfectly able to follow the plane with 
my eyes, provided I myself remained motionless, and to do 
this without the slightest loss of equilibrium or orientation. 
This may seem a small matter to you, but it hit me with the 
force of a revelation. The facts of the case are, paradoxically, 
these: During an onset of A4eniere's syndrome, my eyes tend 
to slew around in my head (neutral observers have told me as 
much), but when I slew my eyes around in my head de- 
liberately, which should be asking for trouble, as many people 
not normally subject to dizziness get dizzy when they try it, 
why, I feel no ill effects whatever. It's some time since I've 
been able to drum up any interest in myself, but this seemed 
a phenomenon worth noting indeed, a knack worth devel- 
oping. Which is the upshot of the whole episode: the dis- 
covery of an unexpected skill. 

214 



Heart 

I practiced swiveling my eyes around in my head till I 
was really quite adept at it. I can now rotate them clockwise 
at high speed, stop suddenly, and reverse to counterclock- 
wise. I did this for members of my family till they were 
nauseated. Next, I took to doing my tricks for neighborhood 
kids, then at parties, finally on public conveyances. What I 
do is, I take a seat at the front or back of a bus, so that I am 
facing passengers on parallel seats, and then quite casually, 
with no other facial expression, go into my routine. The first 
time I did it, a man in a bowler hat turned green and changed 
his seat. He seemed to have to steady himself as he picked his 
way up the aisle toward the rear of the bus. 

Since then, I have introduced many variations and refine- 
ments into my act. I will describe one in closing. I shut one 
eye, so that only the other is seen whirling around in my 
head, and simultaneously thrust my tongue deep into my 
cheek so that it makes a bulge, and whirl that around. When 
I reach that point in my repertoire, generally everyone is 
quite affected, and either moves or turns and looks out the 
window. As my skill grows, so does the percentage of people 
who rise and get off the bus altogether and of course, as a 
confirmed people buff, I like to note exactly hoiv they go as 
well as when they go. Soon, no doubt, I expect I shall be 
able to empty an entire coach with no trouble. 

Why don't you get yourself a good hobby? You certainly 
look as though you need one, Mac, and badly. 



HEART 

I RECEIVED an unexpected phone call recently from my old 
friend Syd Cottonfelt. He was here on business from Kansas 

"5 



Heart 

City, where he works for a shoe-manufacturing company. He 
said he was sick of the fakes and phonies he had been running 
into in New York, and wanted to see some real people. So he 
arranged to come out to Connecticut and spend an evening 
with me. 

Syd had met me some years before at the University of 
Chicago, where we were roommates. Kansas City was his 
home town, and he was all agog at the campus. "I never 
knew there were people like you in the world," he said. 

"Well, there are," I told him. I had brains, charm, sensitiv- 
ity, savoir faire, and a bag of bananas. Making a Saturday 
night of the bananas, in lieu of larger dissipations from which 
our squandered allowances momentarily barred us, we sat in 
our room talking until the small hours. 

"You have a handsome profile," Syd said. 

"Well, as a matter of fact I have two," I said. "One on 
either side." 

He laughed. "Swiftie," he said, calling me by my nick- 
name, "you're one of those people who justify life." 

Driving home from the suburban station, where I had gone 
to meet him on his arrival on the seven-two from New York, 
we naturally reminisced about old times. Then he asked, 
"How's Megs?" He had never met my wife, but he knew her 
name. 

"Well, we're not getting on too well, actually," I said. 
"She's been seeing not one chap but several lately. Their 
names are Warshawski, Kosciusko, Chodkiewicz, and Brza- 
prazetski. So you can see we're Poles apart." 

He flinched, for reasons I could not fathom at the moment 
but that became clear to me in due course. Syd Cottonfelt, I 
began to sense, had made little progress in that urbanity in 
which, in college days, he had expressed such envious de- 
termination to groom himself. He had, if anything, lost 
ground. He might just as well never have met me. Nothing 

116 



Heart 

of me had rubbed off on him at least permanently. He is 
thickset, with a square head and close-cropped black hair. 
His nose is obsolete, recalling Louis Wolheim. He brought 
out presently that he had lost his wife a few years before. "It 
leaves an emptiness," he said. 

Orders for highballs were taken swiftly, after my introduc- 
tion of Syd to Megs, when we got home. "You two get ac- 
quainted," I said. 'Til get the drinks." 

Since the room was an all-purpose living area, this con- 
sisted of little more than turning around to a bar at my back 
and pouring them. I prolonged the operation, however, in 
order to listen to the conversation between the other t\vo. 
They seemed to hit it off instantly. Syd had lots of gossip to 
relate about the old bunch, but he addressed it all to Megs, 
who has never been to the University of Chicago at all but 
only to some women's college, the name of which I have 
never succeeded in extracting from her. 

"Al Carter passed away, of course," he said. "Swiftie's 
probably told you about old Al. The salt of the earth. He 
left the world a better place to live in." 

"That's good to know," I said, handing Syd and Megs their 
drinks. They both scowled at me. I got my own glass from 
the bar. "Cheers." 

"Zimmerman keeps painting. Unfortunately, without much 
success." 

"Hanging is too good for him," I said, and laughed. 

Liquor seemed to increase rather than relieve Syd's native 
sobriety. He said, a little later, "You don't have any chil- 
dren?" 

Megs relayed his gaze on toward me, as the one answerable 
there. "He's never wanted any," she said. 

"Gee!" said Syd. "Isn't that the whole purpose of mar- 
riage? A family, a home? Don't you want that?" 

7/7 



Heart 

"No," I replied. "I consider the home an invasion of pri- 
vacy." 

There was another joint scowl at this. Then the two ex- 
changed glances Megs' an appeal for sympathy, Syd's the 
offer of it. 

"What ever happened to Tod Willoughby?" I asked, to 
change the subject 

"Ah, thereby hangs a tale." Syd took a pull of his highball 
and set it down, making a point of putting it very carefully 
on a coaster so as not to stain the table finish. "Tod's been 
divorced. I heard the legal reasons, but I have my ear to the 
ground, and, believe you me, they're not the real ones. The 
fact is that Marion simply up and ditched him because he 
wasn't making enough money to suit her. Her and her uppity 
ideas! Can you imagine that? I mean, a woman leaving you 
just because you're only making ten thousand a year!" 

"A little earning is a dangerous thing," I said. 

Syd frowned and shook his head. "Divorce is a terrible 
thing," he said. 

"Not always," said my wife, looking away with an odd ex- 
pression I had never seen on her face before. 

"Of course, you've got to support a woman," Syd went on. 
"I have no objection to that. But to make money your god 
to the point where it can ruin a relationship, then all I can 
say is, 'Where are we going?' I'd welcome the chance to 
work for a good woman again," he said, with another glance 
at Megs. "To, as the old-fashioned expression goes, lay all 
my worldly goods at her feet. And between you and me, 
I've had a little luck with certain investments lately." 

"You have?" Megs said, with interest. "Swiftie won't 
bother his head about those things." 

"Well, he should," Syd said. "Aside from providing for 
those dependent on him, a man should want to own a part of 
the growth of his country. Did you know that there are now 

118 



Heart 

fifteen million Americans who own securities and go to share- 
holders' meetings?" 

"Stocks and bonds are the opiate of the people/' I said, and 
wafted myself to the bar for a refill. 

It was from here on that events moved with the speed at 
which, later, I was to marvel. As I set my empty glass down 
on the bar, I decided that what I wanted was a bottle of beer, 
and as I got it from the kitchen icebox, the sight of cold 
chicken and ham and whatnot in there made me realize that 
I was starved. I called into the living room to ask whether 
anyone wanted to join me in a midnight snack (hoping to 
communicate thereby my impression that that was how late 
the hour seemed), and they answered either yes or no I 
couldn't make out which above the sound of phonograph 
music. I prolonged the solitary pleasure of slicing and butter- 
ing pumpernickel and spreading out a platterful of cold cuts 
and cheese, so it may have been as much as half an hour later 
that I carried it all into the living room, to find them dancing. 

I sat watching them as I improvised a portmanteau sand- 
wich from the wealth of viands at my sole disposal, they hav- 
ing expressed no wish to join me. I sank my teeth into the 
sandwich (carefully calibrated for accommodation by the 
human mouth) just as the waltz to which they had been 
swaying, by now cheek to cheek, came to an end. There was 
a whispered exchange between them, and then Megs excused 
herself and disappeared. Syd Cottonfelt sat down to watch 
me eat, taking nothing himself except a stuffed olive, which 
he snatched from the platter just as I was reaching for it my- 
self. 

"She's a real person," he said. 

"Who?" I asked, doubling a flap of cold tongue over my 
own. 

"Megs." 

I nodded, mumbling assent through a quid of food. 

119 



Heart 

The object of these encomiums reappeared in ten minutes 
or so, wearing a light coat and carrying two suitcases. "I'm 
leaving you," she said. 

"Why? "I asked. 

She set the bags down and heaved a long sigh, as one 
shouldering the challenge of a difficult assignment. "It's hard 
to put into words, at least into a few words, and it's not a 
decision I've reached on the spur of the moment. I've felt this, 
way for a long time meeting Syd just brings it to a head. 
Swiftie, you're not real. You're not a real person." 

"No?" I said, selecting a morsel of Port du Salut from the 
assortment on the platter. I nodded to the archetypal and 
irreducible Cube, who had moved to her side. "Is he?" 

"I see now he's what I want," she said. "Oh, you're bril- 
liant, yes. Amusing, sure. But that's just the trouble. Nothing 
is safe from your wicked tongue. Nothing is sacred. Swiftie, 
life can't be lived on that level. You laugh at simple people, 
but they're what I need after seven years of you. I can't 
breathe this rarefied air anymore. I've got to come down to" 
she turned and smiled at her Cottonf elt "to earth. I need 
roots." 

"Have some potato salad," I said. "Potatoes are roots, you 
know. Stop this nonsense." 

But my voice became suddenly tinged with fear. I heard a 
rustle in the doorway where they had been standing, and 
looking up, saw that they were gone. I rose and rushed 
through the open front door to the porch, in time to see them 
hurrying toward a waiting cab. She had telephoned for one 
while packing! 

"Give me another chance!" I called. 

She turned at the curb. "It's too late. You had a sweetness 
and a freshness once, Swiftie, but that was long ago. Remem- 
ber " In the light from a street lamp, I could see the sad half 
smile wreathing her lips as she went on. "Remember the corny 

120 



Heart 

little jokes you used to play when we were first married? 
You'd put things in my handbag absurd little items I would 
find later and pull out, sometimes in public. A can opener, a 
canvas garden glove, an egg timer. Once a handful of cran- 
berries. Then I would laugh and love you. Do you remem- 
ber all that?" 

I nodded mutely from the top of the steps, tears spilling 
from my eyes. "I'll do all that again. If that's what you want. 
We can start fresh. I'll be like other people. You'll see." 

"It's too late," she replied. "You never gave that side of you 
a chance, and now it's too late. You went the other way too 
far to go back. You're a snob. Oh, you're the most fabulous 
thing going, and probably right for the right woman, but it's 
not me. Goodbye, Swiftie." 

"Wait!" I cried. "We'll be like that again. I'll put stuff in 
your bag till hell won't hold it. I'll buy albums of the world's 
best-loved overtures. All that." I moved down a step, away 
from the empty house into which I now suddenly feared re- 
turning. I called one more thing. It was absolutely my last 
offer. "I'll whisper low." 

She turned and hurried into the cab, into which the Cube 
had by now chucked the luggage. He climbed in after her, 
slammed the door, and they were gone. I went back into the 
empty house alone. 

It was there that I did most of the hard thinking that occu- 
pied me in the days that followed. I had had my moment of 
truth: I was not a real person at all, as I had all along taken 
for granted, but something so far from it that for another 
man to be my opposite was sufficient recommendation in the 
eyes of the woman with whom I had been living. What a 
rude awakening! Radical changes were in order in fact, a 
prompt about-face. I must seek new influences, and fast, be- 
fore I became too recherche even for the few friends I had 

121 



Heart 

left and found myself completely isolated from the human 
race. 

It was to this end that I took to spending my free evenings 
not in Greenwich or Fairfield or any of my othpr old haunts 
but in Bridgeport. There, one Saturday night, I met a girl 
named Rose in a bar-and-grill near the Bridgeport Brass Com- 
pany. I lured her away from some girl friends, with whom 
she was clustered about a pinball machine, to a booth that 
became free just as we were striking up our acquaintance. 
She was a sturdy girl in her twenties, with that solid yet fluid 
firmness of line that is associated with Biedermeier furniture 
a resemblance also furthered by her blond coloring. I was 
not surprised to learn she was of German extraction. In the 
course of our first Tom Collins together, she dug into a 
large wicker handbag for her cigarettes, removing from it a 
frazzled paperback reprint, which she set on the table to 
facilitate her search. It was the English version of a French 
novel I happened to have read in the original and disliked. I 
glanced at a few pages of it. "Fortunately, it's a poor trans- 
lation/' I would have said in the old days, and it was on the 
tip of my tongue now, but I checked it. I was not going to 
start this relationship with the kind of unilateral intercourse 
that had curdled another. Instead I said, noting the last of 
innumerable dog's-ears, "Well, you're almost finished." 

"I am finished." 

"May I borrow it?" I asked, putting it beside me on the 
bench. 

She smiled at me through the smoke of her cigarette, to 
which I had also meanwhile managed to set fire for her. 
"Are you that hard up for something to read? Frankly, you 
look like you've read everything," she said, noting the peeved 
intellectuality of my face, as well, I imagine, as the tic that 
had developed in my right eye as the result of all these 
stresses. 

722 



Heart 

"Frankly, I want to make sure I see you again," I told her. 
"I'll have to return it." 

"I don't want it back. I read every spare minute I have 
on the bus to and from work, when things are slack at the 
switchboard. That's what I do where I work. That's how 
come I always carry a paperback in my bag. My girl friends 
say I read too much that I'll ruin my eyes, always with my 
nose in a book. I didn't care much for that one. I thought it 
drug in the middle, and I couldn't identify with the charac- 
ters. I feel that's essential to the enjoyment of a book. Don't 
you?" 

"But of course! We have so much in common," I said. "Can 
I take you to dinner next week if I promise to bring you a 
new book? You need one, you know. And I'll write you a 
poem. I am a poet, you know. My feet are Longfellows." 

She blew a puff of smoke playfully into my face. 

"I like the way you wrinkle your nose when you smile," I 
said. 

"Fast worker," she said, permitting me to take her hand. 
"Say, your hand is like ice." 

"Well, you know what they say about cold hands," I said. 
"How about Wednesday?" 

"If you behave yourself tonight." She laughed, then rose 
and said she had to telephone her mother to say she would 
be home a little later than expected. 

The instant she was gone, I reached for her handbag, which 
she had left behind after taking a dime from it. I quickly 
stowed into it the salt and pepper shakers, the lid of the sugar 
bowl, a beer coaster, and a pair of pliers left behind by a 
repairman who had been fixing the jukebox meter in that 
booth prior to our taking it. I buried them all well down in 
the bottom of the bag, so she would be sure not to see them 
till she got home, when she would proceed to extract them 



Requiem for a Noun; or. Intruder in the Dusk 

one by one and think of me with a smile of affection. I've 
got to have heart, and there isn't much time. 



REQUIEM FOR A NOUN; OR, 
INTRUDER IN THE DUSK 

(What can come of trying to read 

William Faulkner while minding a 

child, or vice versa) 

THE COLD Brussels sprout rolled off the page of the book I 
was reading and lay inert and defunctive in my lap. Turning 
my head with a leisure at least three-fourths impotent rage, I 
saw him standing there holding the toy with which he had 
catapulted the vegetable, or rather the reverse, the toy first 
then the fat insolent fist clutching it and then above that the 
bland defiant face beneath the shock of black hair like tangi- 
ble gas. It, the toy, was one of those cardboard funnels with 
a trigger near the point for firing a small celluloid ball. Letting 
the cold Brussels sprout lie there in my lap for him to absorb 
or anyhow apprehend rebuke from, I took a pull at a Scotch 
highball I had had in my hand and then set it down on the 
end table beside me. 

"So instead of losing the shooter which would have been 
a mercy you had to lose the ball," I said, fixing with a stern 
eye what I had fathered out of all sentient and biding dust; 
remembering with that retroactive memory by which we 
count chimes seconds and even minutes after they have struck 
(recapitulate, even, the very grinding of the bowels of the 
clock before and during and after) the cunning furtive click, 
clicks rather, which perception should have told me then al- 
ready were not the trigger plied but the icebox opened. 

124 



Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 

"Even a boy of five going on six should have more respect 
for his father if not for food," I said, now picking the cold 
Brussels sprout out of my lap and setting it not dropping it, 
setting it in an ashtray; thinking how across the wax bland 
treachery of the kitchen linoleum were now in all likelihood 
distributed the remnants of string beans and cold potatoes and 
maybe even tapioca. "You're no son of mine." 

I took up the thread of the book again or tried to: the 
weft of legitimate kinship that was intricate enough without 
the obbligato of that dark other: the sixteenths and thirty- 
seconds and even sixty-fourths of dishonoring cousinships 
brewed out of the violable blood by the ineffaceable errant 
lusts. Then I heard another click; a faint metallic rejoinder 
that this time was neither the trigger nor the icebox but the 
front door opened and then shut. Through the window I saw 
him picking his way over the season's soiled and sun-frayed 
vestiges of snow like shreds of rotted lace, the cheap up- 
ended toy cone in one hand and a child's cardboard suitcase 
in the other, toward the road. 

I dropped the book and went out after him who had for- 
gotten not only that I was in shirtsleeves but that my braces 
hung down over my flanks in twin festoons. "Where are you 
going?" I called, my voice expostulant and forlorn on the 
warm numb air. Then I caught it: caught it in the succinct 
outrage of the suitcase and the prim chiirning rear and 
marching heels as well: I had said he was no son of mine, 
and so he was leaving a house not only where he was not 
wanted but where he did not even belong. 

"I see," I said in that shocked clarity with which we per- 
ceive the truth instantaneous and entire out of the very 
astonishment that refuses to acknowledge it. "Just as you now 
cannot be sure of any roof you belong more than half under, 
you figure there is no housetop from which you might not 
as well begin to shout it. Is that it?" 

72J 



Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 

Something was trying to tell me something. Watching him 
turn off on the road and that not only with the ostensible 
declaration of vagabondage but already its very assumption, 
attaining as though with a single footfall the very apotheosis 
of wandering just as with a single shutting of a door he had 
that of renunciation and farewell watching him turn off 
on it, the road, in the direction of the Permisangs', our near- 
est neighbors, I thought Wait; no; 'what I said was not enough 
for him to leave the house on; it must have been the blurted 
inscrutable chance confirmation of something he already 
knew, and was hal-f able to assess, either out of the blown 
facts of boyhood or pure male divination or both. 

"What is it you know?" I said, springing forward over the 
delicate squalor of the snow and falling in beside the boy. 
"Does any man come to the house to see your mother when 
I'm away, that you know of?" Thinking We are mocked, 
first by the old mammalian snare,, then, snared, by that final 
unilaterality of all flesh to which birth is given; not only not 
knowing when we may be cuckolded, but not even sure that 
in the veins of the very bantling we dandle does not flow the 
miscreant sniggering wayward blood. 

"I get it now," I said, catching in the undeviating face just 
as I had in the prim back and marching heels the steady 
articulation of disdain. "Cuckoldry is something of which 
the victim may be as guilty as the wrongdoer. That's what 
you're thinking? That by letting in this taint upon our 
heritage I am as accountable as she or they who have been 
its actual avatars. More. Though the foe may survive, the 
sleeping sentinel must be shot. Is that it?" 

"You talk funny." 

Alother-and-daughter blood conspires in the old mammalian 
office. Father-and-son blood vies in the ancient phallic en- 
mity. I caught him by the arm and we scuffled in the snow. 
"I will be heard," I said, holding him now as though we might 

126 



Requie?n for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 

be dancing, my voice intimate and furious against the furious 
sibilance of our feet in the snow. Thinking how revelation 
had had to be inherent in the very vegetable scraps to which 
venery was probably that instant contriving to abandon me, 
the cold boiled despair of whatever already featureless subur- 
ban Wednesday Thursday or Saturday supper the shot green 
was the remainder. "I see another thing," I panted, cursing 
my helplessness to curse whoever it was had given him blood 
and wind. Thinking He's glad; glad to credit what is always 
secretly fostered and -fermented out of the vats of childhood 
-fantasy anyway -for all childhood must conceive a substitute 
-for the father that has conceived it (finding that other incon- 
ceivable?) ; thinking He is walking in a nursery fairy tale to 
find the king his sire. "Just as I said to you 'You're no son of 
mine' so now you answer back 'Neither are you any father to 
me.' " 

The scherzo of violence ended as abruptly as it had begun. 
He broke away and walked on, after retrieving the toy he had 
dropped and adjusting his grip on the suitcase which he had 
not, this time faster and more urgently. 

The last light was seeping out of the shabby sky, after the 
hemorrhage of sunset. High in the west where the fierce 
constellations soon would wheel, the evening star in single 
bombast burned and burned. The boy passed the Permisangs' 
without going in, then passed the Kellers'. Maybe he's heading 
for the McCullums', I thought, but he passed their house too. 
Then he, we, neared the Jelliffs'. He's got to be going there, 
his search will end there, I thought. Because that was the last 
house this side of the tracks. And because something was try- 
ing to tell me something. 

"Were you maybe thinking of what you heard said about 
Mrs. Jelliff and me having relations in Spuyten Duyvil?" I 
said in rapid frantic speculation. "But they were talking about 

12J 



Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 

mutual kin nothing else." The boy said nothing. But I had 
sensed it instant and complete: the boy felt that, whatever of 
offense his mother may or may not have given, his father had 
given provocation; and out of the old embattled malehood, it 
was the hairy ineluctable Him whose guilt and shame he was 
going to hold preponderant. Because now I remembered. 

"So it's Mrs. Jelliff Sue Jelliff and me you have got 
this all mixed up with," I said, figuring he must, in that fat sly 
nocturnal stealth that took him creeping up and down the 
stairs to listen w r hen he should have been in bed, certainly 
have heard his mother exclaiming to his father behind that 
bedroom door it had been vain to close since it was not 
soundproof: "I saw you. I saw that with Sue. There may not 
be anything between you but you'd like there to be! Maybe 
there is at that!" 

Now like a dentist forced to ruin sound enamel to reach 
decayed I had to risk telling him what he did not know to 
keep what he assuredly did in relative control. 

"This is what happened on the night in question," I said. 
"It was under the mistletoe, during the holidays, at the Jel- 
liffs'. Wait! I will be heard out! See your father as he is, but 
see him in no baser light. He has his arms around his neigh- 
bor's wife. It is evening, in the heat and huddled spiced felic- 
ity of the year's end, under the mistletoe (where as well as 
anywhere else the thirsting and exasperated flesh might be 
visited by the futile pangs and jets of later lust, the omnivo- 
rous aches of fifty and forty and even thirty-five to seize 
what may be the last of the allotted lips) . Your father seems 
to prolong beyond its usual moment's span that custom's 
usufruct. Only for an instant, but in that instant letting 
trickle through the fissures of appearance what your mother 
and probably Rudy Jelliff too saw as an earnest of a flood 
that would have devoured that house and one four doors 
away." 

128 



Requiem for a Noun; or, Intruder in the Dusk 

A moon hung over the eastern roofs like a phantasmal 
bladder. Somewhere an icicle crashed and splintered, fruit of 
the day's thaw. 

"So no\v I've got it straight," I said. "Just as through some 
nameless father your mother has cuckolded me (you think), 
so through one of Rudy Jelliff s five sons I have probably 
cuckolded him. Which would give you at least a half brother 
under that roof where under ours you have none at all. So 
you balance out one miscreance with another, and find your 
rightful kin in our poor weft of all the teeming random 
bonded sentient dust." 

Shifting the grip, the boy walked on past the JellifiV. Before 
him the tracks; and beyond that the other side of the 
tracks. And now out of whatever reserve capacity for aston- 
ished incredulity may yet have remained I prepared to face 
this last and ultimate outrage. But he didn't cross. Along our 
own side of the tracks ran a road which the boy turned left 
on. He paused before a lighted house near the corner, a white 
cottage with a shingle in the window which I knew from 
familiarity to read, "Viola Pruett, Piano Lessons," and which, 
like a violently unscrambled pattern on a screen, now came to 
focus. 

Memory adumbrates just as expectation recalls. The name 
on the shingle made audible to listening recollection the last 
words of the boy's mother as she'd left, which had fallen short 
then of the threshold of hearing. ". . . Pruett," I remem- 
bered now. "He's going to have supper and stay with Buzzie 
Pruett overnight. . . . Can take a few things with him in 
that little suitcase of his. If Mrs. Pruett phones about it, just 
say I'll take him over when I get back," I recalled now in that 
chime-counting recapitulation of retroactive memory better 
than which I could not have been expected to do. Because 
the eternal Who-instructs might have got through to the 



The House of Mirth 

whiskey-drinking husband or might have got through to the 
reader immersed in that prose vertiginous intoxicant and 
unique, but not to both. 

"So that's it," I said. "You couldn't wait till you were taken 
much less till it was time but had to sneak off by yourself, 
and that not cross-lots but up the road I've told you a hun- 
dred times to keep off even the shoulder of." 

The boy had stopped and now appeared to hesitate before 
the house. He turned around at last, switched the toy and the 
suitcase in his hands, and started back in the direction he had 
come. 

"What are you going back for now?" I asked. 

"More stuff to take in this suitcase," he said. "I was going 
to just sleep at the Pruetts' overnight, but now I'm going to 
ask them to let me stay there for good." 



THE HOUSE OF MIRTH 

THE COLLABORATION known as marriage could, I think, be 
profitably extended from the domestic to the social sphere, 
where a man and wife might brighten their contribution to, 
say, the give-and-take of dinner-table conversation by prepar- 
ing a few exchanges in advance. "It's simply the principle of 
teamwork," I told my wife in partially describing the idea to 
her one evening as we were dressing to go to dinner at the 
home of some friends named Anthem. "For instance, tonight, 
Sue Anthem being as hipped as she is on family trees, we're 
bound to talk relatives at some point. Well, I'm going to tell 
about my seagoing grandfather who's so wonderful. In the 
middle of it, I'll pause and take up my napkin, and then I'd 
appreciate it if you'd ask me, 'Was he on your mother's 

230 



The House of Mirth 

side?' " (I planned to answer, "Yes, except in money matters, 
when he usually stuck up for my father." This wasn't much, 
but I was feeling my way around in the form, trying to get 
the hang of it before going on to something more nearly 
certifiable as wit.) 

Dinner ran along the lines I had foreseen. Sue Anthem got 
off on kinship, and I launched my little account of this won- 
derful grandfather. I paused at the appointed moment and, 
glancing at my wife, reached for my napkin by way of a 
signal. 

"I keep forgetting," she came in brightly. "Was he your 
maternal grandfather?" 

"Yes, except in money matters, when he usually stuck up 
for my father," I replied. 

A circle of blank looks met my gaze. I coughed into my 
napkin, and Sue picked up the thread of the discussion while 
I reviewed in my mind a couple of other gambits I had worked 
out with my wife, on the way over. One of these concerned 
a female friend, not present that evening, whom I will cut 
corners by calling a gay divorcee. She had just announced her 
engagement to a man so staid that news of the match took 
everyone who knew her by surprise. "Now, if the thing 
comes up, as it probably will," I had coached my wife, "say 
something about how you've only met him a few times but 
he seems a man of considerable reserve." I intended then to 
adroitly add, "Which Monica will get her hands on in short 
order." I expected that to go over big, the divorcee being a 
notorious gold-digger. 

The gossip did get around to her soon after it left the sub- 
ject of relatives, and my wife came in on cue punctually 
enough, but her exact words were "He's such a quiet, un- 
assuming chap." 

This time, I had the presence of mind to realize the quip 
was useless, and check myself. Another misfire followed al- 

757 



The House of Mirth 

most immediately. In preparation for possible discussion of 
Italy, where Monica and her fiance planned to honeymoon, I 
had primed my wife to tell about her own visit to the Gulf 
of Spezia, where the drowned Shelley had been washed up. 
"In a way, you know, he was lucky," I had planned to com- 
ment. "Most poets are washed up before they're dead." She 
told her story, but used the words "where Shelley was 
found," thus washing up that mot. 

It was clear that I would have to explain the system to my 
wife in detail if I was ever to get the bugs out of it. I decided, 
in fact, that I had better reveal in each case what the capper 
was to be, so that she would realize the importance of deliver- 
ing her line exactly as prearranged. I did this while we were 
driving to our next party, several evenings later. I had ducked 
her questions about the failures at the Anthems', preferring 
to wait till I had some new material worked up to hammer 
my point home with before I laid the whole thing on the line. 

"At the Spiggetts' tonight," I said, "there's certain to be the 
usual talk about art. Here's a chance for you to get in those 
licks of yours about abstract painting isn't it high time 
painters got back to nature, and so on. The sort of thing you 
said at the Fentons'. You might cite a few of the more tradi- 
tional paintings, like the portraits of Mrs. Jack Gardner and 
Henry Marquand. Then turn to me and ask now, get this, 
it's important ask, 'Why can't we have portraits like that 
anymore? 7 " 

"Then what will you say?" she asked. 

I slowed to make a left turn, after glancing in the rear- 
view mirror to make sure nobody was behind me. " 'It's no 
time for Sargents, my dear.' " 

My wife reached over and pushed in the dash lighter, then 
sat waiting for it to pop, a cigarette in her hand. 

132 



The House of Mirth 

"Of course I'll throw it away," I said. "Just sort of murmur 
it." 

She lit the cigarette and put the lighter back in its socket. 
"Isn't this a little shabby?" she asked. 

"Why? What's shabby about it? Isn't it better than the 
conversation you have to put up with normally doesn't it 
make for something at least a cut above that?" I said. "What's 
wrong with trying to brighten life up? We can turn it 
around if you like. You can take the cappers while I feed 
you the straight lines " 

"Lord, no, leave it as it is." 

"Can I count on you, then?" 

"I suppose," she said, heaving a sigh. "But step on it. We're 
supposed to eat early and then go to that Shakespearean little 
theatre in Norwalk." 

My wife and I parted on entering the Spiggetts' house. I 
made off to where a new television comedienne, named Mary 
Cobble, was holding court with a dozen or so males. She was 
a small blond, cute as a chipmunk and bright as a dollar. The 
men around her laughed heartily at everything she said. It 
was well known in Connecticut that her writers, of whom she 
kept a sizable stable, formed a loyal claque who followed 
her to every party, but it didn't seem to me that all the men 
around her could be writers. I knocked back a few quick 
Martinis and soon felt myself a gay part of the group. Once, 
I glanced around and saw my wife looking stonily my way 
over the shoulder of a man whose fame as a bore was so great 
that he was known around town as the Sandman. Matters 
weren't helped, I suppose, when, presently returning from 
the buffet with two plates of food, I carried one to Mary 
Cobble and sat down on the floor in front of her to eat the 
other. At the same time, I saw the Sandman fetching my wife 
a bite. 

133 



The House of Mirth 

Midway through this lap dinner, there was one of those 
moments when all conversation suddenly stops at once. Lester 
Spiggett threw in a comment about a current sjiow at a local 
art gallery. I saw my wife put down her fork and clear her 
throat. "Well, if there are any portraits in it, I hope the things 
on the canvases are faces," she said. She looked squarely at 
me. "Why is it we no longer have portraits that portray 
that give you pictures of people? Like, oh, the Mono. Lisa, or 
The Man with the Hoe, or even that American Gothic thing? 
Why is that?" 

Everybody turned to regard me, as the one to whom the 
query had obviously been put. "That's a hard question for 
me to answer," I said, frowning into my plate. I nibbled 
thoughtfully on a fragment of cold salmon. "Your basic 
point is, of course, well taken that the portraits we get are 
not deserving of the name. Look like somebody threw an egg 
at the canvas." 

Fuming, I became lost in the ensuing free-for-all. Not so 
my wife, whom annoyance renders articulate. She more than 
held her own in the argument, which was cut short when 
Mary Cobble upset a glass of iced tea. She made some cheery 
remark to smooth over the incident. The remark wasn't 
funny, nor was it intended to be funny, but to a man her 
retinue threw back their heads and laughed. 

Meaning to be nice, I laughed, too, and said, "Well, it 
goes to show you. A good comedienne has her wits about 
her." 

"And pays them well," my wife remarked, in her corner. 
(Luckily, Mary Cobble didn't hear it, but two or three others 
did, and they repeated it until it achieved wide circulation, 
with a resulting increase in our dinner invitations. That, how- 
ever, was later. The present problem was to get through the 
rest of the evening.) 

We had to bolt our dessert and rush to the theatre, where 



Split-level 

they were doing King Lear in Bermuda shorts, or something, 
and my wife and I took another couple in our car, so I didn't 
get a chance to speak to her alone until after the show. Then I 
let her have it. 

"That was a waspish remark," I said. "And do you know 
why you made it? Resentment. A feeling of being out of the 
swim. It's because you're not good at repartee that you say 
things like that, and are bitter." 

"Things like what?" my wife asked. 

I explained what, and repeated my charge. 

In the wrangle, quite heated, that followed her denial of it, 
she gave me nothing but proof of its truth. I submitted that 
the idea of mine that had given rise to this hassle, and of 
which the hassle could safely be taken to be the corpse, had 
been a cozy and even a tender one: the idea that a man and 
wife could operate as a team in public. "What could be more 
domestic?" I said. 

"Domesticity begins at home," she rather dryly returned. 

I met this with a withering silence. 



SPLIT-LEVEL 

I WAS hurrying down the main street of Westport one Satur- 
day afternoon late last fall when I heard my name called, 
followed by the words "as Ah live and breathe." My friend 
Malcolm Johnsprang was coming toward me, hand extended. 
"Haven't seen you in ages," he said. 

"Hello, Malcolm," I said. "How are you?" 
"Fahn. How are you? Walking along with distraction's 
aspect, your ahs in a fahn frenzy rolling. What's up?" 
u Oh, usual rat race, one thing and another." We stood on 



Split-level 

the sidewalk, grinning disproportionately at each other. 
"Well, well. It must be six months since I've seen you, 
Malcolm." 

"Come have a beer," he proposed, slinging an arm through 
mine. "Just sold two houses and feel flush," He is a real-estate 
broker. 

I agreed willingly enough, and as he steered me back half 
a block in the direction I had come from, I congratulated him. 

"We living in a boom town," Malcolm observed, with evi- 
dent mixed feelings. "The new atrocities are going like hot 
cakes and ruining the landscape fast enough to drive the old 
families out of their beautiful homes which Ah love, but 
business is business, and we're here to turn over the split-levels 
along with the gems." The tavern for which we were headed 
now lay across the street, and we paused for a break in the 
traffic. "It's a tragedy. Connecticut is being laid waste. And 
Ah love mah state." 

Malcolm Johnsprang is an ardent and even chauvinistic 
New Englander, if a naturalized one, with a native accent that 
is rather more than vestigial. He is a bachelor of about thirty, 
blond, handsome in a somewhat moon-faced way. None of 
our friends know where Malcolm was born, except that it 
was obviously below the Mason and Dixon Line. The subject 
is never mentioned. I once cited, in favorable comparison 
with the storied New England manors about which he is for- 
ever spouting lore, the great houses in Biloxi and Paducah, 
down around in there, and was met with a frozen stare. I 
sensed that I had struck a taboo, and thereafter watched my 
tongue in his presence. 

"When you going to put that lovely salt-box of your own 
on the market?" he asked as we crossed the street. "It's a 
delightful place, but with four kids and only three bedrooms, 
you ought to let me get you out of there and into something 

136 



Split-level 

with some room. Got a sweet old place up Wilton way with 
five bedrooms." 

This was not a new gambit. For the two years since the 
birth of my fourth child, Malcolm had been dying to "turn 
over" my house, of which he remained an admirer despite 
my protestations that it was not authentically old but mostly 
additions around an original cottage. Its musk of venerability 
had impressed Malcolm, who took it for granted that the 
split-levels discernible from my parlor window were gall to 
my soul, when as a matter of fact they looked like the 
Promised Land, and it was my plan, if ever I sold my dank 
little gem, to move into one as fast as a van could get me 
there. 

At the bar, I listened silently while Malcolm reeled off 
what he had in the way of sweet old properties. When he 
got around to the atrocities again, I pricked up my ears. He 
had just been through a model house that was to be thrown 
open for public inspection the following week. "The minute 
you walk in, you get that smell of newness, you know?" he 
said, turning to me as to a kindred spirit. I nodded, chewing a 
peanut from a bowl of them on the bar. "From the entrance 
hall, you step into a dropped living room, which, of course, 
has a 'dining ell,' " he continued amusedly, "and from there 
you go up two steps to a section where there's four bedrooms 
and a den. Downstairs, "behind the garage, there's the half- 
aboveground playroom and utility room." He paused to finish 
off his beer. "I guess they O.K. for people of a certain taste 
and income." 

I signaled the bartender for refills. "You say four bedrooms 
and a den. You could consider that five bedrooms, couldn't 
you?" I said. 

"You could. It's a lot of house for the money. Fifty-three 
five." 

'57 



Split-level 

"My God!" I exclaimed in genuine surprise. "That is rea- 
sonable. I mean if the construction is good." 

"Construction's O.K. Nobody builds them any better than 
Spontini. The house is sound as a nut, but, of course, totally 
devoid of chawm. You should see it!" 

I let the subject drop. But everything Malcolm had said 
came back to me the following Saturday evening, when, out 
of a clear sky, my domestic life took a new turn. 

The "clear sky" is more than a little figurative. As a matter 
of fact, it rained cats and dogs from Friday on. Saturday 
evening, one of the bedroom ceilings sprang a leak. With the 
water gathering in the saucepans collecting simultaneously 
in the cellar, as I knew without having to look my wife 
chose the occasion to announce that she was again expecting. 

"Damn," I said sympathetically. "Well, we'll have to move 
now. We'll just have to." 

No argument there, or over my vow that it would not be 
into another old house she was quick to make that point 
herself. What I wondered was how far we would agree on 
what we did want. She knew I was sick of making repairs, 
and I knew she was sick of a Currier & Ives kitchen and too 
little room, but that was as far as we had ever compared notes. 

After sitting abstractedly for some minutes in the living 
room, to which we had returned after the hullabaloo, my 
wife said, "I've been thinking. Houses of this kind weren't 
planned with children in mind. But you know the kind they 
build nowadays, with an extra sort of half floor downstairs 
for a playroom? So that end of the main floor is raised a little? 
So you have to " She held out a hand horizontally at varying 
heights, apparently unable to bring herself to speak the words. 

"Darling, you mean " I began, getting out of my chair. 
"You mean you like split-levels, too?" 

She nodded. "On days like this, you wouldn't have kids 

'3* 



Split-level 

tracking mud Into the house. They'd come in downstairs, take 
off their muddy boots and things* and stay down there." 

"All five of them," I said affectionately, tousling her hair. 
"Him, too, down there with the rest, out of the way. I love 
him already." 

My wife and I looked at Spontmfs house the next day, 
liked it, and put down a binder of five hundred dollars, ap- 
plicable to the purchase of one quite similar to it, to be erected 
within four months on a nearby plot two acres in size. 

The next step was to go home and pour a stiff highball. 

"I know what you're thinking," my wife said, watching 
me make short work of the drink. "What if we don't sell this 
house in time? But we will. People do it all the time buy 
and then sell, I mean. The market is humming, everyone says 
so, and besides we've got four whole months." 

That wasn't what I had on my mind at the moment, 
though God knew it was No. i on my list of headaches. My 
mind was on a hurdle that seemed scarcely less formidable 
that of telling Malcolm Johnsprang what I had done. 

I stewed about facing him for the better part of a week 
before it occurred to me how I might cushion the blow. I 
would specify him as the agent for the brokerage fee. This 
was shaving it pretty fine, since he had derided the premises 
rather than extolled them, but he had apprised me of their 
existence and told me to go see for myself, and technically 
that is all an agent need do to be entitled to the commission. 
Anyhow, it would be no skin off my nose, since it was Spon- 
tini who would have to pony up; it wouldn't actually be any 
skin off Spontini's nose, either, since houses are priced to 
absorb the brokerage. That, at the customary rate of five 
percent, would come to twenty-six hundred and some dollars. 
With this amount lining his pockets, I felt, Malcolm would be 
at least tolerant of my move after, of course, recovering 
from the shock of having his Yankee sensibilities outraged. 



Split-level 

Still, it was with dread that I contemplated the luncheon 
date I finally made with him for the following Saturday, and 
after calling for him at his office that noon I steered him 
toward a place where I knew they served liquor as well as 
food. Once installed in a booth with him, I quickly put down 
a couple of hookers, leaned back, and said, "Malcolm, you've 
sold me a house." 

Our appetizers had arrived. Malcolm looked up from his 
shrimp cocktail. "What y'all talking about? " he asked. 

"Those Spontini houses you were raving about the other 
day. I couldn't wait to get over and see for myself, and, by 
George, they're everything you said. My wife and I both felt 
they were just what we need, and we've put a binder on one." 

Bent over my own food, I could sense his prolonged 
regard. At length, I was aware of a shifting movement in 
his seat, and then I heard him say, "Ah don't believe Ah 
showed you the property in question." 

"An agent doesn't have to," I said firmly. "All he has to do 
to collect is tell a client about a place." 

"Ah don't think Ah even did that, in the accepted sense of 
the term," he said. 

"I've named you as broker," I said. This wasn't strictly 
true, but I intended to name him when I signed the contract, 
in a few days. "The law's the law. The money's yours. There's 
nothing you can do about it." 

His left eye contracted slightly, like a clam under lemon 
juice. The movement seemed part of a faltering effort to get 
the situation or, rather, me into focus. "Business is busi- 
ness," he said presently, "but that also implahs " 

My dander was up. I leaned impulsively across the table 
and brought it all out. I said very rapidly, "I like newness. 
I'm sick of original beams and cobblers' benches. What's 
more, I never did like them. I've been living a lie for seven 
years ever since I moved into Connecticut and did as the 

140 



Split-level 

Romans did. Now I want out. I want something spanking 
new. I want to smell newness when I walk in" I went re- 
morselessly on, and Malcolm stiffened against the back of the 
booth with his eyes shut, like a man being electrocuted. I 
threw the switch for another charge. "I like split-levels. I 
like rustproof aluminum combination storm windows and 
screens, that fit. I love plastics. I love plywood and Fiberglas 
and things that are extruded and laminated. I love asphalt 
tile and Vinylite and Formica. And I can't wait to get them." 

I sat back, breathing heavily. Eventually, Malcolm picked 
up his cocktail fork, which he had let drop, and resumed eat- 
ing his shrimps. There were two left. He ate them with a 
thoughtful air, as though he had now recovered. At last, he 
set his fork down and picked up his water. He took a swallow 
and set the glass down. 

"Have you seen Tom? 7 ' he asked. 

"Tom who?" 

"Tom Magazine. They have an article this week on the 
modern home, and there's a good deal in it on the split-level. 
You might read it." He moved his water glass around the 
tabletop, frowning a little. "Why, sure, fellow, if you think 
that's the ticket for you, more power to you. There's prob- 
ably a lot to be said for that type of house which us old moss- 
backs up heah don't appreciate. Sot in our ways, you know," 
he added, with an engaging grin. "Anyhow, Ah hope you 
and your good lady are going to be happy in your new home. 
Ah know you'll be." 

That I felt like a fool isn't the point, or that I felt like a 
heel. The point is what the incident showed about Malcolm. 
I had never really seen anyone behave, after the first surprise, 
so instinctively like a gentleman, so naturally and effortlessly 
displaying what used to be called good breeding, particularly 
in another part of the country specifically, in that part the 
dust of which he supposed himself to have shaken from his 

141 



Split-level 

feet, "The South is ouah cross," he would say. "We heah 
up Nawth must bear it." Now Malcolm pushed his dishes 
aside and said, leaning forward with a broad smile, "The next 
order of business is to get your present house off your hands, 
which presumably you have to do to swing this?" I nodded. 
"Ah don't know whether you've set an asking price, but what 
do you think of fifty-one five? It's worth every penny of it, 
in mah estimation." 

Of the scores of agents who brought prospective buyers to 
my house in the next few weeks, Malcolm was far the most 
articulate. He would enter explaining that the black band 
around the chimney went back to Revolutionary days, when 
the mark was the sign of Tory sympathies (news to me); he 
would leave praising the view. "Stony fields against gently 
rolling hills is one of the loveliest sights we have up Nawth," 
he would say. 

He got me an offer of forty-eight thousand the second 
week. I turned it down, and overnight the market went dead. 
There were a number of reasons. First, bad weather and the 
approaching holidays made a seasonal slump. Second, the 
Penn Central Railroad went to hell just then, scaring off the 
New York commuting market. Third, repair work on the 
road my house was on made it impassable, and brokers 
couldn't get clients up to the house. 

Weeks passed with only a smattering of lookers. The weeks 
became months. I woke up one morning to find myself 
twenty days from closing time on the new house and all my 
money still tied up in the old. Malcolm arrived that evening 
for a council of war. He advised me to ask Spontini for a 
month's extension, to reduce the asking price to forty-nine 
thousand, and to advertise in the New York papers. A classi- 
fied ad, I knew, would, in addition to its own virtues, put me 
in the way of buyers who wouldn't involve me in an agency 

142 



Split-level 

commission, and I could afford to sell my place to them for 
that much less. 

I put an ad in the Times the next day. I went to Spontini 
and he gave me the thirty days' extension. Three more 
weeks passed, and I was into the period of grace. How- 
ever, there were signs of spring in the air the favored mat- 
ing time of buyer and seller and also signs that the Penn 
Central was pulling itself together. I had lots of answers to my 
ad, which I repeated on successive weekends. But now a new 
thing began to puzzle me. Malcolm almost never brought 
clients anymore, nor did he call up or come by to ask how 
we were doing, as he formerly had. "Maybe he can't stand 
the sight of human suffering," I said sardonically to my wife, 
and added that he might be turning out to be a fair-weather 
friend after all. 

The next week, we sold the house for forty-eight thou- 
sand dollars to a couple from Long Island, who came without 
an agent. It was a "sacrifice," as stated in ads, but I was off the 
hook. I phoned the new r s to Malcolm, whom, in the joy of 
relief, I found it in my heart to forgive. 

"Hurrah!" he exclaimed. "Going to buy me a drink on that, 
aren't you? Let's have lunch. Ah'll be out of town next week, 
but how about a week from Saturday?" 

"Swell. I'll call you that morning," I said. 

Our buyers, a young pair named Mackay, came on the 
intervening Sunday to discuss some things with my wife and 
me, such as buying the draperies and the carpeting, and what- 
not. Over drinks, we all became rather friendly, and at one 
point in the amiable haggling over the price of these extras 
Mackay laughingly suggested that we ought to throw them 
all in, since we'd saved the commission. "Lucky for you, 
your being outside the town limits," he said. 

"What do you mean?" I asked. 

"Being out of the agent's territory," he said. "He showed 

'43 



SpUt-level 

us what he had in Westport proper, but then he said there 
was this charming salt-box we ought to look at before we 
made up our minds. It was just out of his legal territory, so 
we had to come without him." 

We were outside the town limits but not, of course, out- 
side any agent's limits. "Who was your agent?" I asked, as if 
I didn't know. 

"Malcolm Johnsprang," he answered, making me feel like 
a fool for the second and, I hoped, the last time. 

When I picked Malcolm up for lunch on Saturday, it was 
with a check for twenty-four hundred dollars, made out 
to him, in my pocket. As we stood on a curb on our way to 
the restaurant, waiting for a traffic light to change, I said, 
"How's everything, Malcolm?" 

"Fahn. Well, ma's bloodshot." 

"Ma's bloodshot?" I said softly as we started across the 
street. 

He pointed to his right eye, which looked like a hot cinder. 
"Better not get too close, in case it's pinkah," he said. "That's 
the most contagious thing on earth." 

"It looks too red to be pinkeye," I said, springing out of 
the path of a truck. "Hard to say what makes an eye get red 
like that." 

There was a constraint on his part as well as mine, or so it 
seemed to me as we settled ourselves at a table. We both 
ordered Old-Fashioneds. As we sipped, we got on the sub- 
ject of a book he had been reading, and from there onto the 
state of current literature in general At one point, he looked 
at me and asked directly, "What do you think of William 
Faulkner?" 

"Oh, I don't know," I said, hating all the stalling. "He 
seems to me easier to reread than to read." I didn't really 
know what that meant, except vaguely that Faulkner seemed 

144 



Split-level 

better the second time around, and rewarded study, and so on. 
Malcolm merely grunted in a neutral way and dropped the 
subject, satisfied, I suppose, that no issue had been taken with 
his disapproval of the South. When our second drink had 
arrived, I drew the check from my pocket and laid it on the 
table in front of him. "Here," I said. "I believe I owe you 
this." 

He read it with convincing blankness. "Ah don't believe Ah 
quite " 

"Now, look, let's not go through all that again," I said. 
"You gave the Mackays some nonsense about the place being 
out of your territory to spare me having to shell out. God 
knows how many people you did that with, because you 
knew I was going to take a licking " 

"Boy!" Malcolm said, with a laugh. "If you knew what it 
meant to me to get those Mackays out of my hair! That very 
afternoon. Ah picked up another client and sold him that 
sixty-thousand-dollar place Ah was telling you about, in 
Weston. You keep your money," he said, shoving it back 
across the table. 

"I will not keep it," I said, pushing it back again. "You'll 
keep it." 

For a while, the check went back and forth between us 
like a puck between hockey players. 

"I don't want charity," I finally snapped, and at that Mal- 
colm picked up the check and pocketed it, laughing again. 

"All right, but Ah won't cash it just yet," he said. "You'll 
need seven hundred dollars' worth of screens alone on that 
house, boy, unless you're aiming to spend the summer nights 
swatting bugs." 

I knew he would never cash it (just as I knew he would 
never take the commission from Spontini). He couldn't re- 
voke a fine gesture any more than he could make a bad one. 
Such a thing would have gone against his innate sense of 



Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold 

form, or what I might as well unabashedly call Honor. It was 
on this score that I experienced my most complete sense of 
frustration with Malcolm. 

I didn't object to his being come-lately, of course. The 
naturalized are often the most patriotic, just as converts are 
the most pious, and New England has had its illustrious share. 
Robert Frost came from California to adopt it, and Mark 
Twain came from Missouri to adopt it, and many of Mal- 
colm's and my friends have come from other parts of the 
country to adopt it, and it seemed just too dreary to have to 
say that it was what they brought that counted, not what 
they got. Nevertheless, in Malcolm's case I should have wel- 
comed the chance to make the point. I wanted to shake him 
by the shoulders and say, "You're the flower of the South." I 
wanted to shake him and say, "You're the most perfect ex- 
ample of a Southern Gentleman I've ever seen." But I 
couldn't; he was too touchy on the subject for me to be able 
to risk that. Instead, the only polite thing for me to do was to 
sit and let him race his motor. 

When the waitress came up and thrust menus at us, he con- 
sulted his for only a moment. His face lit up and he said, "Ah, 
the New England bawled dinner today. Bring me that, please, 
ma'am?" 

"Make it two," I said, handing my menu rather wearily 
back to her. 



TILL THE SANDS 
OF THE DESERT GROW COLD 

I RECENTLY found myself with a wedding anniversary coming 
up, my nineteenth, with the usual attendant problem of a gift 

146 



Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold 

for my wife. I had been racking my brains intermittently for 
the better part of a month when I suddenly remembered a 
Broadway play she had mentioned particularly wanting to 
see. So I bought her a ticket to that. She gave me a shuffle 
sander, a small power job for use in my woodworking, and 
as we sat admiring our presents we polished off a bottle of 
Veuve Clicquot and talked -of old times. 

"Nineteen years/' I said. "It seems much longer somehow. 
Twice that." 

She regarded me across her champagne glass, sipping. 

"So packed with incident, so rich in experiences shared," I 
went on. "This whole business of time and tedium is very 
little understood, as Thomas Mann points out in the passage 
in The Magic Mountain where he goes into it, you may re- 
call. It is only over the short haul that a crowded interval 
seems short an eventful day, say. When it comes to a long 
span looked back on, the more there's been in it the longer it 
seems. Monotony stretches the passing moment while pleasure 
makes time fly, yes; but over a past viewed in retrospect this 
illusion is reversed. Lack of content will shrink the interval, 
eventfulness expand it. What is true of time is also true of 
space. An empty room will seem smaller than a full one. 
Remember how we left the house on Woolsey Lane when we 
had it on the market? Furnished, so it would look bigger to 
clients. What a chapter that was, eh, ducks? Well, here we 
still are, all right, and so here's to us again. Cheers." 

She was tickled pink with her ticket, and implored me to 
help her remember the evening for which I'd got it a Sat- 
urday eight weeks hence lest it slip by unnoticed, as things 
often do when planned that far in advance. We did not for- 
get. I had the car gassed up and ready in plenty of time, for 
she had decided to drive in from the suburb where we live, 
rather than take the train. I saw her off with every good 
wish, waving to her from the driveway as she rounded the 



Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold 

bend toward the Merritt Parkway. I heaved a sigh of pleasure 
for her before turning back to the house in anticipation of 
my own evening there. 

First, I opened a can of beer, and then I sat down to watch 
a little television. Then I got Proust off the shelf to reread 
some of that "Overture" and see how his narrator was mak- 
ing out with the jellied madrilene or whatever the hell it was. 
Then I paged through the local phone book till I found an 
Upjohn, dialed the number, and asked the man who an- 
swered, "Are you Upjohn?," and when he said "Yes," replied, 
"At this hour?," and was hung up on in a thoroughly satisfy- 
ing manner. Then I wandered into the kitchen, where I got 
out of the refrigerator all the meats and cheeses I could find 
and made myself a proper three-decker sandwich (lingering 
with special affection over the slices of Kraft's Genuine Swit- 
zerland Swiss cheese). I ate it slowly, with another can of 
cold beer. It was now around eleven o'clock. I looked at 
television for another hour, this time hitting a revival of an 
old Jimmy Stewart and Rosalind Russell movie that I re- 
membered with particular fondness. Very charming, very 
cute. When it was over, I turned in. 

My wife got home around 2 A.M. She woke me up when 
she entered the bedroom and snapped the light on. I smiled 
drowsily from the bed, scratching myself and yawning. "How 
was it?" 

Her dress was awry, her stockings were twisted, and she 
must have been trampled by more than the normal quota of 
latecomers, judging from the expression with which she sat 
nursing her feet after removing her shoes. The havoc wrought 
to her person suggested even a spot of audience participation. 
Her cheeks wore a vivid flush. Her hair offered the final 
testimony to an exciting evening in the theatre. 



Till the Sands of the Desert Grow Cold 

"Well, it's not something you're supposed to enjoy " she 
said. 

"Of course not." 

"You're galvanized, you're shaken to your roots, you're 
repelled. When you come out, you feel you've been through 
it all with the characters." 

"What was this one about?" 

"Well, there's this couple going through a crisis. They hate 
each other, but it's not enough. At one point, she empties the 
garbage pail on his head while he's sitting reading Pascal." 

"Why?" 

"Well, they're sensitive people, which puts a special strain 
on them, and on their marriage, too, I suppose." 

"What happens next? What does he do?" 

"He throws up his hands." 

"I understand there's quite a lot of vomiting in Who's 
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, too. There's a new vital theatre, 
they tell me. Out there. Well, come to bed. You look as 
though you've been pulled through a hedge backward." 

She joined me inside of five minutes. I slung an arm around 
her in the dark and nuzzled her ear. "Marriage is a give-and- 
take," I said. "Each doing his part, each respecting the other's 
individuality. I'm sorry those two couldn't make a go of it." 

She took my hand and laid it on her brow. "Splitting head- 
ache," she said. She was given the expected soothing strokes 
by way of ministration. I knew well that Merritt Parkway 
katzenjammer, the product of fatigue and oncoming head- 
lights, that sets the homebound suburbanite to wondering 
whether the train wouldn't have been better just as the 
Penn Central inaugurates the reverse line of thought. 

"I love you," I said. "You're a jewel. I love you and Fm 
going to tie you down with good stout cord and suck out 
your eyeballs with the muzzle of the vacuum cleaner to show 

'49 



From There to Infinity 

I care. To show I'm not indifferent. What else happens in the 
play? Are her feelings reciprocated?" 

"Tomorrow. I'm too dead now." After a moment, she mur- 
mured, "Glad I went, though," stirring pleasurably against me. 

"Makes a person appreciate their home more when they 
get back to it." I yawned, and mumbled, "Love is the ideality 
of the relativity of the reality of an infinitesimal portion of 
the absolute totality of the Infinite Being." 

"What was that noise?" 

"Hegel." 

Her breathing became slower, and more measured. But af- 
ter a few minutes she raised her head and said, "Do I smell 
smoke?" 

"That's the stuff. A woman should smell smoke. When a 
woman smells smoke, you know everything is all right, every- 
thing is in order. You go right on smelling smoke. God, what 
a doll." 

She was soon asleep, and then I turned over and dropped 
off again myself, as, like a loose hubcap, the old earth spun on 
toward morning through the perilous and promissory night. 



FROM THERE TO INFINITY 

(After reading "From Here to 
Eternity" by James Jones) 

We all have a guilt-edged security. 
Moses 



"STARK ROMANTICISM" was the phrase that kept pounding 
through his head as he knocked on the door of Mama 
Paloma's, saw the slot opened and the single sloe plum that 



From There to Infinity 

was Mama Paloma's eye scrutinizing him through the peep- 
hole. "Oh, you again/' the eye grinned at him, sliding back 
the bolt of the door. "The girls are all pretty busy tonight 
but go on up." A dress of sequins that made her look like a 
fat mermaid with scales three-quarters instead of halfway up 
tightly encased the mounds of old snow that was her flesh. 
She glanced down at the must-be-heavy-as-lead suitcase in 
his hand as she closed the door. "I don't dare ast how many 
pages you're carting around in that by now/' she grinned. 

He mounted the steps with that suffocating expectation of 
men who are about to read their stuff, the nerves in his loins 
tightening like drying rawhide, the familiar knot hard in his 
belly. Shifting the suitcase from one hand to the other, his 
head swam into the densening surf of upstairs conversation, 
above which the tinkle of the player piano was like spray 
breaking all the time on rocks. Standing in the upper door- 
way, he reflected how, just as there can be damned senseless 
pointless want in the midst of plenty, so there can be the 
acutest loneliness in the midst of crowds. Fortunately, the 
thought passed swiftly. The whores moved, blatant as fla- 
mingos in their colored gowns, among the drinking-grinning 
men, and his eye ran tremulously swiftly in search of Dorine, 
gulpingly taking in the room for her figure moving erectly 
womanly through it all. 

"No Princess to listen tonight," Peggy grinned toward him. 
"The Princess went away." 

He could have slapped her. It puzzled him to find that 
beneath that hard, crusty exterior beat a heart of stone. What 
was she doing in a place like this? He turned and hurried 
back down the stairs. 

"Come back soon, there's listeners as good as the Princess," 
Mama Paloma laughed jellily jollily as she let him out into the 
street. 

With Dorine not there he couldn't bear Mama Paloma's, 



From There to Infinity 

and he didn't know another place. Yet he had to have a 
woman tonight. Another woman would have to do, any 
woman. 

Colonel Stilton's wife, he thought. Why not? She was from 
Boston, but there was no mistaking the look of hard insolent 
invitation she gave him each time she came to the Regimental 
Headquarters to ask if he knew where the Colonel had been 
since night before last. He hated Stilton's guts, or would if he, 
Stilton, had any. Hated that smirk and that single eyebrow 
always jerking sardonically skeptically up, like an anchovy 
that's learned to stand on end. Why not transfer out, why be 
a noncom under that bastard? he asked himself. I'm a non- 
compoop, he thought. He tried to make a joke of it but it 
was no good. 

He knew where the Colonel lived from the time he'd 
taken him home stewed. He got out of the cab a block from 
the house. As he approached it walking, he could see Mrs. 
Stilton under a burning bulb on the screened terrace with 
her feet on a hassock, smoking a cigarette. She had on shorts 
and a sweater. Her slim brown legs like a pair of scissors 
made a clean incision in his mind. He went up the flagstone 
walk and rapped on the door. 

"What do you want?" she said with the same insolent 
invitation, not stirring. He was aware of the neat, apple-hard 
breasts under the sweater, and of the terse, apple-hard invita- 
tion in her manner. 

"I want to read this to you," he said, trying not to let his 
voice sound too husky. 

"How much have you got in there?" her voice knew all 
about him. 

"A quarter of a million words," he said, thickly. 

She came over and opened the screen door and flipped her 
cigarette out among the glows of the fireflies in the yard. 



From There to Infinity 

When she turned back he caught the screen door and fol- 
lowed her inside. She sat down on the hassock and looked 
away for what seemed an eternity. 

"It's a lot to ask of a woman," she said. "More than IVe 
ever given." 

He stood there shifting the suitcase to the other hand, the 
arm~about-to-come-out-of-its~socket ache added to that in his 
throat, wishing he wouldn't wish he hadn't come. She crossed 
her arms around her and, with that deft motion only \vomen 
with their animal confidence can execute, pulled her sweater 
off over her head and threw it on the floor. "That's what you 
want, isn't it?" she said. 

"You with your pair of scissors," he said. "When you can 
have a man who's willing to bare his soul." He gritted his 
teeth with impatience. "Don't you see how much we could 
have?" 

"Come on in." She rose, and led the way inside. Nothing 
melts easier than ice, he thought, sad. He watched her draw 
the drapes across the window nook and settle herself back 
among the cushions. "I'm all yours," she said. "Read." 

The female is a yawning chasm, he thought, glancing up 
from his reading at the lying listening woman. He found and 
read the passage explaining that, how she was the inert earth, 
passive potent, that waits to be beaten soft by April's fecun- 
dating rains. Rain is the male principle and there are times for 
it to be interminable: prosedrops into rivulets of sentences 
and those into streams of paragraphs, these merging into 
chapters flowing in turn into sectional torrents strong and 
hard enough to wear gullies down the flanks of mountains. 
After what seemed an eternity, he paused and she stirred. 

"What time is it?" she sat up. 

"A quarter to three." 

"I never knew it could be like this," she said. 



From There to Infinity 

Each knew the other was thinking of Colonel Stilton. 

"He never reads anything but Quick" she said, rolling her 
head away from him. 

"The sonofabitch," he said, his fist involuntarily clenching 
as tears scalded his eyes. "Oh, the rotten sonofabitch!" 

"It's no matter. Tell me about you. How did you get like 
this?" 

Bending his head over the manuscript again he readingly 
told her about that part: how when he was a kid in down- 
state Illinois his uncle, who had wanted to be a lawyer but 
had never been able to finish law school because he would 
get roaring drunk and burn up all his textbooks, used to tell 
him about his dream, and about his hero, the late Justice 
Oliver Wendell Holmes, who in those great early days of 
this country was working on a manuscript which he would 
never let out of his sight, carrying it with him in a sack even 
when he went out courting or to somebody's house to dinner, 
setting it on the floor beside his chair. How his uncle passed 
this dream on to him, and how he took it with him to the big 
cities, where you began to feel how you had to get it all 
down, had to get down everything that got you down: the 
singing women in the cheap bars with their mouths like 
shrimp cocktails, the daughters-into- wives of chicken-eating 
digest-reading middle-class hypocrisy that you saw riding in 
the purring cars on Park Avenue, and nobody anywhere 
loving anybody they were married to. You saw that and you 
saw why. You had it all figured out that we in this country 
marry for idealistic love, and after the honeymoon there is 
bound to be disillusionment. That after a week or maybe a 
month of honest passion you woke up to find yourself trapped 
with the sow Respectability, which was the chicken-eating 
digest-reading middle-class assurance and where it lived: the 
house with the, oh sure, refrigerator, oil furnace and all the 
other automatic contraptions that snicker when they go on 



From There to Infinity 

the well-lighted air-conditioned mausoleum of love. She 
was a better listener than Pillow, a middle-aged swell who 
had eight hundred jazz records and who would sit in Lincoln 
Park in Chicago eating marshmallow out of a can with a spoon 
with gloves on. Every time he tried to read Pillow a passage, 
Pillow would say "Cut it out." Pillow was a negative product 
of bourgeois society just as Stilton with his chicken-eating 
digest-reading complacence was a positive one, whom his 
wife had and knew she had cuckolded the minute she had let 
the suitcase cross the threshold. 

"It'll never be the same again, will it?" she said fondly 
softly, seeing he had paused again. 

He read her some more and it was the same. Except that 
the thing went on so long the style would change, seeming 
to shift gears of itself like something living a hydramatic life 
of its own, so that side by side with the well-spent Heming- 
way patrimony and the continental cry of Wolfe would be 
the seachanged long tireless free-form sentences reminiscent 
of some but not all or maybe even much of Faulkner. 

The door flew open and Stilton stood inside the room. His 
eyes were like two wet watermelon pips spaced close to- 
gether on an otherwise almost blank plate (under the an- 
chovies one of which had learned to stand on end). 

"So," he said. The word sailed at them like a Yo-Yo flung 
out horizontally by someone who can spin it that way. It 
sailed for what seemed an infinity and came back at him. 

"So yourself," she said. "Is this how long officers' stags 
last?" she said. 

"So he forced his way in here" the Colonel cued her, at 
the same time talking for the benefit of a six-foot MP who 
hove into view behind him. 

Realization went like a ball bouncing among the pegs of a 
pinball machine till it dropped into the proper slot in his 



From There to Infinity 

mind and a bell rang and a little red flag went up reading 
"Leavenworth." He remembered what he'd heard. That an 
officer's wife is always safe because all she had to do was call 
out the single word rape and you were on your way to 
twenty years. 

Why did he just stand there, almost detached? Why wasn't 
his anger rising from his guts into his head and setting his 
tongue into action? But what could you say to a chicken- 
eating digest-reading impediment like this anyhow, who with 
all the others of his kind had gelded contemporary literature 
and gelded it so good that an honest book that didn't mince 
words didn't stand a chance of getting even a smell of the 
best-seller list? 

"This is my affair," he heard her say coolly, after what 
seemed a particularly long eternity. 

The Colonel lighted a cigarette. "I suspected you were 
having one," they saw him smokingly smirk, "and since Klop- 
stromer was seeing me home from the club I thought he 
might as well " He stopped and looked down at the suit- 
case. "How long does he expect to stay?" 

"I have something to say," he said, stepping forward. 

"Sfr." 

"I have something to say, sir," he said, picking up the suit- 
case to heft it for their benefit. "When Justice " 

"You'll get justice," the Colonel snapped as Klopstromer 
sprang alertly forward and bore down on him and wrested 
the suitcase from his grasp. "If you won't testify," the Colonel 
went on to his wife, "then Klopstromer at least will. That 
he assaulted a superior officer. It won't get him Leavenworth, 
but by God six months in the stockade will do him good." 

"But why?" his wife protested. "You don't understand. 
He's a writer." 

"Maybe," they saw the Colonel smirkingly smoke. The 
anchovy twitched and stood upright. "Maybe," he said, mo- 



Overture 



tioning to Klopstromer to march him out through the door 
to the waiting jeep, "but he needs discipline." 



OVERTURE 

As MY WIFE lay writhing contentedly into wakefulness in the 
next bed, I lay quietly in mine trying to evolve some morning 
pleasantry with which to greet her, some dallying, com- 
panionable nonsense. Not, I reminded myself, that that is 
easy; nonsense may be one of the lowliest of the arts but it is 
certainly one of the trickiest, since the penalty for its failure 
is silliness. 

My wife lay on her side with one leg bent over the other, 
an arm outflung on her pillow. Think of the languorous 
organization of power in a woman's limbs, I said to myself: 
how unlike a man's body, which in repose suggests only 
latent locomotion. Latent locomotion and power in repose 
indeed! I told myself. This is rubbish where's the nonsense? 

I sorted through the probable events of the coming day. 
These would include the planing of the front door by a 
handyman named Mr. Crevecoeur. A long spell of humid 
weather had warped and swollen one door after another, and 
now Mr. Crevecoeur came every Saturday to plane something, 
always bringing a tin of stain to coat over the newly exposed 
surface. But the damp always got into the wood again, and 
for a week now I had had to heave the front door shut at 
night with my shoulder. Soon the winter would come and 
the dry furnace heat would shrink the doors back hopelessly 
short of the jambs, so in the end they would probably all 
swing clear, like the doors of saloons. I examined these facts 
as raw materials for some usable jest, turning once to glance 

757 



Overture 

at my wife, who had kicked the covers down to the foot of 
her bed. 

Settling my hands under my head, my fingers laced, I 
looked up at the ceiling and spoke. "When Mr. Crevecoeur 
comes," I called over softly, "when Mr. Crevecoeur comes, 
and he insists on painting the planed part the deep-mahogany 
stain that is all he ever has, that I keep telling him doesn't 
match the light finish we've got on the rest of the wood, if he 
refuses to pay any attention to me and does the same thing 
over, Fm going to say to him, 'Go away, and never darken 
my door again.' " 

There was an extended murmuring as my wife stretched, 
pleasurably curling her fists over her shoulders and mingling 
with the act a nod of domestic agreement. She singled the 
sheet from the blankets at the end and drew it up to her chin, 
after which reorganization of her nest she lay momentarily at 
rest once more. 

"Why," I tried again, putting a riddle, "are these things 
these botherations with a house in the country like' a tin can 
tied to a dog's tail? Because they're bound to occur." 

I heard no sound. 

"Bound to a cur," I said. 

I had passed into general humor with no more detectable 
profit than in the case of nonsense, and I lay reflecting that 
next in order supposing I wished to continue this double- 
or-nothing pursuit through levels of subtlety was the cal- 
culated anecdote. I presently saw that my wife had rolled her 
head on the pillow and was now gazing past me with a dreamy 
imprecision at the wall, a moist tendril of hair pasted down 
her forehead like an inverted question mark. I smiled now 
as, with fresh resolve, I sat up in bed and, looking through 
the window and across the intervening lot to the Shepherds' 
garden, told a funny story. 

"I will not ask you to believe I know a man named De 

158 



Overture 

Peyster," I began, "but I do. Harry De Peyster. Well, I was 
having a beer at Micklejohn's, across from the railroad station, 
one evening several weeks ago when in walks this Harry De 
Peyster. 'Harry De Peyster!' I said. But he was in no mood 
for gaiety, and after a few drinks he told me he was having 
trouble with his wife. Oh, nothing serious enough for a 
divorce or anything luckily, because," I went on, very 
carefully, as though feeling my way through the task of 
assembling particular ingredients, "otherwise you would have 
De Peyster seeing de shyster. Well, anyway, I said, 'Harry, 
why don't you take her some flowers tonight when you go 
home?' When he protested that there were no florists open in 
town at that hour, I said, 'Steal some. Why not? A lyric idea 
flowers stolen for her by moonlight from somebody's gar- 
den.' ' Whose?' he said. 'Anybody's. The Shepherds',' I said. 
'People next door to me. They've got a garden with some 
beauties. Win prizes every year at the flower shows. Come 
on, we'll pile in my car and drive over.' So we did. I parked a 
hundred yards or so down the road. 'Now, right on this edge 
of the garden, in back there, are some phlox that are out of 
this world,' I said to Harry. 'You go on help yourself. Fll 
wait here in the car.' So he slipped over, keeping in the 
shadows as much as possible, and picked himself some of those 
giant blue phlox that special breed that's the apple of the 
Shepherds' eye. When he had a good armful, the kitchen 
door opened, the porch light went on, and a man's voice I 
don't know whether it was Old Man Shepherd or one of the 
sons -called out, 'Who's there?* Harry dropped the flowers 
and high-tailed it for the car. He got in and slammed the door 
and I started off. 'What the hell did you go and tell me to do 
that for?' he said. He was panting and pufSng. I shifted the 
car into second, then into high, and settled back behind the 
wheel. 'Oh,' I said, *I just wanted to show you how Shepherds 
watch their phlox by night/ " 

*59 



Overture 

My wife had commenced her morning ritual, and was 
brushing her hair. She did it, as usual, sitting on the edge of 
her bed, from which she could see her reflection in the dresser 
mirror. Perched tailorwise on mine, I could see it, too. 

"I think it's 'special' myself, but that's no matter now," I 
said. "Maybe you don't like the merely acoustical pun think 
only the pun with a point or meaning is worth while. Well, 
how's this one for size? 'Sweet are the uses of perversity.' 
You don't have to laugh," I went on, when she didn't. "The 
humor I'm in now isn't really humor, but more like wit. In- 
tellectual." 

She changed hands and did the left side of her hair. Get- 
ting off the bed, I drew on rny robe, which had been hanging 
on the back of a chair, and tied the cord. I walked over and 
stood behind her, watching her ply the brush with leisurely, 
deliberate strokes, fluttering the ends of her hair upward at 
the conclusion of each one. "The next level," I said, "is formal 
epigram." 

She rose and set the brush down on the dresser and went 
over and reached into the closet for a dressing gown, mur- 
muring something into it that was indistinguishable but that 
seemed to me to resemble the single word "God." 

"God," I said, "like Alfred Hitchcock, vouchsafes us only 
glimpses of Himself. I have often thought of this. And also 
that we make a game of trying to spot Him in this scene and 
then that, till we've squandered the revelation of the whole 
instead of simply accepting and enjoying what He has created. 
We're in philosophy now. I hope," I added sardonically, 
"I'm not keeping you up." 

She drifted by, trailing the shred of a smile, which seemed 
to linger in the glass where I caught sight of it like a skein of 
smoke. She brushes her teeth before breakfast, too, and as she 
brushed them now I stood at the mirror and combed my hair, 
which was mashed in every direction, like grass after a storm. 

160 



Overture 

My wife emerged from the bathroom, spruce, with a brisk 
yawn. I set the comb down and followed her out of the bed- 
room and downstairs to the dining room. 

"As I see it, there's only the last level Ultimate Beauty," 
I said. She turned with an expression of concern, which I 
overrode. "The hell with that now. If you're going to fall on 
your face, it might as well be from the top of the mountain. 
There Truth is Beauty and Beauty Truth," I continued, fol- 
lowing her on into the kitchen. "There the mathematician 
resorts to letters and the poet uses numbers. Think of the 
New England mathematician who covered the blackboard 
with abstract theorems while tears were streaming down his 
cheeks. So the juice that flows from visceral laughter is 
squeezed from the brain as well." 

I watched her set coffee to brew and halve a honeydew, 
which she carried on two plates into the dining room. This 
had the quality of a feat of balancing, from which I tried to 
extract some hope of collecting and coordinating the frag- 
ments of the morning. 

"It's an old joke of your own correct me if I am mis- 
taken that if my nose were a quarter of an inch shorter, I 
would look like Cyrano," I said. "As I remember it, not the 
least of his accomplishments was the ability to improvise in 
strict verse forms." I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath. 
"I'll take -the sonnet." 

When I looked again she was at the window. She twitched 
a cord, and the draperies flew apart with a dwindling swirl 
like that of a dancer's skirt. I pointed an arm toward the 
window, and began: 

The flash of drapes that lets the morning in y 
Smartly adjuring us to be about, 
Gives tacit promise of its better twin 
The pensive pull that shuts the evening out; 

161 



Reuben, Reuben 

When we may listen for, eventually catch, 
The sound of guests for dinner and for talk, 
Music for which there is no earthly match, 
Save that of their departure down the walk. 

For this there crow apocalyptic cocks! 

This rigmarole of Time, for which we heed 

The ticking gizzards of monotonous clocks. 

O Vanity! At least you spell my need: 

The strength to keep, -for my ephemeral doom, 

One candle nourished on eternal gloom. 

Having paused to listen, she now paused a moment longer 
to assess my expression and find it in correspondence with 
what I had uttered. Then she came over to me. All woman, 
she put a hand to my cheek, and when her two arms slipped 
around over my shoulders, her embrace no less than her 
voice was that of one who had never shirked her obligation 
to encourage, comfort, and sustain. "Darling, that's non- 
sense," she said, drawing my head down to hers. Her fingers 
on my face and through my hair conveyed the most delicate 
sense of ministration. "It really is, you know, it's perfect non- 
sense." 

I had done it at last. 



REUBEN, REUBEN 

WE KNOW NOW that everything is the opposite of what it 
seems that lavish tipping conceals a niggardly nature, filial 
devotion the wish to do one's parents in, and sexual athleticism 
a basic doubt of one's masculinity but we did not always 

262 



Reuben, Reuben 

know it, and the knowledge has enormously widened our 
horizons. My own doubt of my sexual adequacy dates back 
some years to a wild Saturday night party where I found 
myself messing around with two women at once. This is what 
happened. 

I had taken a shine to a tall brunette who wore a red silk 
dress and a perfume that must have cost fifteen cents an 
ounce. She was a model, though scarcely of intelligence, and 
soon tiring of the canoodle with which we had been further- 
ing our acquaintance on a corner couch, I drifted out to the 
terrace for a breath of air carrying her spoor with me 
evidently. Because the girl with whom I took up out there 
drew back at one point and, sniffing, asked, "What's that 
you're wearing?*' I had to admit that the fragrance adhering 
to the folds of my clothing had been picked up in a canoodle 
with another woman a few minutes previous. 

"Well, wear it in health," she said. "Because you're not ad- 
mitting you're bragging and when a man does that it's 
for a reason." 

"What?" 

"He's got to prove something he isn't." 

Her name was Peggy Schotzinoff there was no doubt 
about it and she was a dancer in a ballet troupe. They were 
exponents, not of the classic ballet, but the more modern 
variety of which the dances, spastic, vital, are often con- 
cerned with the depicture of contemporary phenomena such 
as slum clearance or the installation of high tension wires 
through valleys in which people have hitherto lived in peace. 

A phonograph playing jazz had started up inside the house, 
and I said, "Shall we?" After I had propelled her for some 
measures around the pebble floor of the terrace, she leaned 
back and said, "You're very graceful" I shrugged and began 
to wag my shoulders in an exaggerated fashion to indicate 
that this was not unqualifiedly true, or indicated at best a 

163 



Reuben, Reuben 

merely primitive zest for rhythm. "How about dinner to- 
morrow night?" I asked, still dancing. 

"You certainly lay it on fast." 

"Well, then,- later in the week." 

We did eventually have dinner, and afterward went up to 
my place. There, after some hard-breathing importunities in 
shirtsleeves on my part, she forced me gently back and said 
with an understanding laugh, "Don't struggle so hard, Goof." 
It was the nickname by which I was affectionately known in 
my set in those days. 

"You're the one who's struggling," I said. 

"I don't mean that way. I mean don't fight so hard to prove 
what you feel this need to prove that you're a man." 

I rose and put on my coat. 

"Listen, macushla," I said, "there are plenty more names in 
the little old black book. More than you can shake a stick at." 

"You see?" she said, spreading her hands. "That's what I 
mean." 

I called the girl of whose essence I had reeked in the first 
instance, when all this had got started, and asked her for a 
date. She was evidently in more black books than I could 
shake a stick at, because it was a good month before she 
could "tuck me in on Friday," by which time word had 
gotten around that Goof was racing his motor, and why. In 
the cab, after dinner, I seized her in a passionate embrace and 
began to devour her with kisses, gobbling her throat, her 
arms, her shoulders everything in sight. She wriggled free 
of my grasp after a moment, and sat back to tidy herself. 

"We all admire the way you're fighting homosexuality, 
Goof," she said. 

I nodded, looking out the window. "We'll go up to my 
place and talk about it," I said. 

I became more and more disturbed, emotionally, as what 
knowledgeable friends seemed to see as evidence of some deep- 

164 



Reuben, Reuben 

seated conflict continued to mount. It was a vicious circle, of 
course, with each attempt to allay the fear serving merely to 
offer more grounds for it. I became by turns moody and 
irritable. It was then that I met a woman such as a man with 
a problem like mine is bound to meet sooner or later: a 
woman keen for the challenge to straighten him out. 

Her name was Ada Purchase, and a nicer person I have 
never come across. She had straight auburn hair, drawn into a 
biscuit behind, and sturdy, well-cut features, especially on 
Saturday when she would drive me out to the beach in her 
car and explain things to me that I didn't see because they 
were under my nose. She had a wide knowiedge of all the 
things that make people tick, with a vocabulary that made 
the intellectual in me's eyes pop. 

"This health club that you belong to," she said one day as 
we were sitting on the sand, "and those daily exercises that 
you do. Why do you think you go in for all that?" 

"To keep fit?" 

"No. To cut a figure. To cultivate a masculine ideal that 
inwardly you don't feel you measure up to." 

"Shall I quit?" 

"Of course not. Just recognize why you have the ob- 
session. The important thing is to have insight into our- 
selves." As she spoke, she would often pound the sand with 
the heel of her shoe, which she had taken off, to emphasize 
some point, while I nodded and listened. I remember that the 
shoe was "sensible." 

Things got worse before they got better, as they usually do 
in cases of this kind where increasing insight at first stirs up a 
corresponding resistance, much as a medication sent in to fight 
a disease temporarily "muddles" it. They came to a head, 
rather unexpectedly one night, as Ada and I were sitting in a 
bar not far from her place, drinking been I had by now 
thrown away the black book and was seeing only her, which 



Reuben, Reuben 

showed In Itself an increasing confidence in my prowess with 
women. 

We were occupying a booth near the front of the tavern. 
At the bar itself were one other couple, a middle-aged woman 
in a trench coat and a thickset man with a red neck which 
overflowed his shirt collar in a series of small tires. In a lull 
in both strains from the jukebox and our own conversation, 
we listened to what he was saying to the woman. He was 
explaining the meaning of the term laissez f aire to her. "David 
Niven has got it. Rex Harrison. Actors like that," he said. 
"Means suave. Man of the world." There was an exchange 
of arch references to himself, after which he laughed and, 
spreading a beefy arm around her, gave her a woolly hug. 

"Well," I observed to Ada, "there's no doubt he's hetero- 
sexual." 

My remark had the misfortune of falling into a general 
silence, and he heard it. He turned around, gave me a look, 
and walked the few steps over to our booth. 

"Was you referrin' to me, Bud?" he asked. 

"Why, yes," I answered with an ingratiating smile, rising to 
my own feet as a gesture of courtesy. "I just said you were 
heterosexual" 

"That's what I thought." He gave his trousers a hitch and 
his chest swelled up like a blowfish. "Care to back up them 
insinuations with a little action, and maybe see if there's any 
truth in them?" 

"Apparently you misunderstand the term." I laughed good- 
naturedly at our little contretemps, at the same time evaluat- 
ing the inch of forehead, or less, that separated his thick 
black hair from his beetling brows. "It simply means that in 
your case things are exactly as they seem. Canoodling with 
every confidence in self, and with great laissez faire I might 
add-" 

1 66 



Reuben, Reuben 

"Hell business is that of yours? Hell do you think you are 
anyway, coming around here giving people angles on their- 
self? I'm jist as normal as you any day, as I said I'm ready to 
step outside and prove or stay right in here if you'd rather." 
He gave his belt another truculent hitch. 

"But of course! That's precisely the " 

"Look, Bud, I don't care to hear any more about this par- 
ticular wrinkle tonight. If you're so sure you're in the clear 
about all them fancy names your sort likes to go around call- 
ing people to show they're educated, maybe you're ready for 
that little demonstration. Or maybe if I flatten that nose of 
yours you won't have so much trouble keeping it out of 
other people's business." 

With that he let fly with a hefty sock. 

It was here that my daily exercising at the health club paid 
off. I not only worked out with the barbells and the wall 
pulleys in the gymnasium there, I also took boxing lessons 
from an old ex-pro the club had around for members in- 
terested in learning something of the manly art of self- 
defense. My right had been developed to a point where all I 
needed, among the violent but rather wild swings into which 
my assailant now threw himself, was one solid uppercut. 
Good footwork and the knack of finely timed ducking 
sufficed to elude those intended haymakers, which could be 
seen coming a mile off and which wore nobody out but him- 
self. I had youth on my side, at least in those days, and he the 
disadvantage of a life that may very well have been sedentary 
like truck driving. I saw my chance in a momentary pause 
in the snorting and flailing, and let him have it. 

My punch caught him squarely on the jaw and sent him 
backwards into the jukebox, down whose decorated slopes he 
slid to the floor, where he remained in a sitting position. 
Dazedly, he raised a hand, not to the chin I had clipped, but 
to the back of his noggin. He had evidently struck it on the 



Reuben^ Reuben 

chrome trimming of the jukebox, making that contraption 
very much my ally. I murmured a word of anxious inquiry 
over him and then helped him to the bar. A goose egg seemed 
in the making, but nothing more serious than that. At this 
point his lady friend took over, and I looked around for mine. 

Ada was standing in the doorway, poised for flight. "For 
God's sake let's get out of here," she whispered. I dropped a 
dollar on our table and hurried out after her. 

We walked rapidly down the street, Ada holding my arm, 
first with one hand, then both. I sensed a subtle, but un- 
mistakable, change in her attitude. It was an attitude of pride 
in her escort. 

"You did all right in there, I must say," she said. "You 
handle yourself beautifully." 

I shrugged, and said it was nothing. Her apartment was 
only three blocks away. When we reached it, I said good- 
night to her in the hall. 

"Don't you want to come in?" she said. 

"No," I*said f "not tonight." 

I was developing more and more self-confidence. I didn't 
call her that week or the next. The week after that, she called 
me. 

"Would you like to go to the Higginsons' party?" she 
asked. 

"I don't care if I do," I said. 

We went, and had a very good time. 

She called me again the following week and invited me to 
a dinner which she would cook herself. We were married 
toward the end of that year, and now live in a cottage in the 
country. The grass goes uncut in the summer and the snow 
unshoveled in the winter, and the house is generally a mess, 
but she never badgers me about chores. She knows I'm a per- 
fectionist, and can't get started for fear of failure. 

168 



(With a low bow w 
Elizabeth Bowen) 



"TENNIS, ANYONE?" 

The face thrust in at the library door had the square, ani- 
mal good looks that are encountered in photographs of men 
examining niblicks in their underwear. It was in fact among 
the mail-order advertisements that it had first acquired an 
anonymous familiarity, but Londoners now recognized it 
as did Angelica here as something more recently seen in an 
antic glare, under a tilted bowler, above glib feet and a 
twinkling stick. "I say, isn't that that comic at the Palace?" 
she said to Mt. Auburn, as its owner disappeared strumming 
a racquet which he held as a banjo. "Aunt Aurora said he 
might push round." 

Mt. Auburn, who had turned to the doorway to smile 
negatively as at a vendor, now murmured affirmatively to 
Angelica and resumed what he had been doing: browsing 
along the shelves. His movements betrayed that incarcerated 
stress he always felt as a weekend house guest. The books 
were packed so tight it was like pulling bricks out of a wall: 
which to that extent appeared to give him something to do. 
Watching him open and close several, cracking the spines of 
some, the tip of his tongue visible between his teeth like a 
morsel of pimento, Angelica asked: "Did we come in here 
to be together or just to get away from the others?" 

"I'm fond of you," he said with the touch of asperity that 
usually accompanied this declaration. "You fcnow that. I mean 
why take on? . . . This has some interesting things in it," he 



Touch and Go 

went on of an anthology he was holding. Two pressed roses 
and a tasseled dance card fell out of it to the floor: he re- 
trieved and returned them with deploring clucks, and wedged 
the book back in its place, with the same old effort. None of 
this had been thought through. She said: "Mt. Auburn, why 
don't you take another out before you put one back? That'll 
give you more space." They were both at the mercy of 
impromptu irritations, and now Mt. Auburn, suddenly splay- 
ing out the fingers of his hands, in that gesture one makes 
when one draws on gloves, walked to the window and looked 
out toward the west at a mass of clouds he knew to be dark- 
ening there. He had for a moment that expression which doc- 
tors wear when they are reading X-rays. "It'll rain," he mur- 
mured. "Then we shall all be trapped and huddled." 

They had been trapped and huddled last night, not due to 
rain: their host, Angelica's Uncle Malcolm, had read, in mus- 
tard-colored tweeds and an oppressively interpretive voice, at 
length from the Victorian poets. Traditions, like people, are 
bellicose in youth and then again in age. Uncle Malcolm and 
Aunt Aurora and their friends had a sense of cutting ice only 
among themselves: together, their voices had the ring of 
musketry, their gestures the gallantry of old alliance; but 
single, pausing for instance in the doorway to a room in 
which they would presently become anachronisms, standing 
thus a moment in their flowing velvet and with their verdant 
old moustaches, they had a kind of forlorn vehemence, like 
exclamation marks that have got detached from their sen- 
tences. 

"I suppose you're still done up from last night," Angelica 
said. "But remember, their poets led the way." 

"How?" 

"They were the first to grope." As though that ended the 
matter, Angelica turned to press the point with a forensic 

770 



Touch and Go 

gesture which died in midair at the sound of approaching 
footsteps. 

"Your aunt?" Mt. Auburn asked quickly. 

Stiffening against the library table where she stood, An- 
gelica reminded herself how she had resolved henceforward 
to meet sensibility: by remaining sensible. What after all 
could Mt. Auburn expect but to be asked down and trotted 
out for these "relatives and those? Once lovers are declared 
or even suspected to be such, there is scarcely a move made 
in their direction that is not tribal in intent. The commu- 
nity is instantly ready with the shelter of its institutions^ kin 
with their blessings; but the price of security is enclosure, 
that of benediction, tedium. Lovers have no more than 
kissed than society is busy defining the trellis on which their 
roses may sprawl. Now Mt. Auburn had got to look at family 
snapshots. 

Sensing him to have darted a glance toward a nearby cor- 
ridor, as though it were a side street up which he might run, 
Angelica said evenly: "Mt. Auburn, stay." 

Aunt Aurora, who had over the years evolved a pattern 
of rigorous solicitude for her guests, had got herself up with 
formidable casualness in a suit of brown houndstooth, crown- 
ing which with a tweed porkpie, presently, she would go for 
a stride with whomever she could recruit. She entered the 
room as though she were already on the open heath. 

"Hullo, hullo, hullo," she said. "Don't you two look knit 
up in here." She unslung from her shoulder her voracious 
camera, and hooked it over a chair. "Well, you wanted to 
see some pictures, didn't you, Harry?" 

It is equally the plight and the safeguard of the sensitive 
that it is not easily known when they are at bay. Mt. Au- 
burn, who disliked the use of his first name in even the 
closest of bonds, stood in the corner beside the final pleat 



Touch and Go 

of a curtain and watched her bear down with a rehearsed 
despair, but gave no sign. We are surprised at the collapses 
of the placid, not knowing when a preserved calm is merely 
the means of the overkeyed for keeping themselves illegible. 
Mt. Auburn's rather geometrically good-looking features did 
not "represent"; his face fleetly suggested an abstraction that 
had been mutilated by the addition of a second eye. Aunt 
Aurora stalwartly fancied herself as being able to take him 
in her stride, not dreaming it was she who must be taken in 
his. He could not exist in a plasm of overall sociability, and 
a siege of hospitality as robust as Aunt Aurora's took more 
out of him than the usual weekend. Aunt Aurora was asser- 
tive even in repose; occupying a chair, she did so with an 
affirmative quality, as though she were sitting on luggage. 

She dug from the table drawer several packets of new 
snaps awaiting plastering and dating in her albums, and 
fetched them to the sofa. "There's heaps of Angelica I took 
last month, and soon there'll be heaps of you. We'll save the 
family album till tonight a good look, long as you want 
to get knit up with us." She sat in the middle of the sofa and 
spread palms on either side of her. "Now let's make our- 
selves comfy." 

Not least among the tensions of civilized intercourse is 
that of sitting beside. Taking a seat next another, and being 
sat next, are sharply different degrees of one sensation, and 
their demarcation is often the threshold of distress to the 
distilled consciousness. Angelica knew this made an ordeal 
of solitary train rides for Mt Auburn. He did not, once pos- 
sessively organized in a seat with a window to look out of, 
prohibitively mind being joined: what he could not do was 
join. Which was what Aunt Aurora was haling him into 
now, over and above the tribulation of whatever pictures 
were to come his way. Nor was this all. Angelica started 
across the floor with a qualmy deliberation, then began to 



Touch and Go 

put herself outside the tension in this room, arriving at the 
sofa in that somnambulism which is a kind of blessed de- 
tachment about what is going to happen to us in a crisis. She 
took her place on one of the patted ends. Then suddenly 
her aunt heaved herself over to the other and with all that 
woolly good will smacked the middle cushion and said: 
"Here with him!" 

Women, under strain, crumple from the shoulders, men 
from the knees. Mt. Auburn rounded the massive oak table 
with that peculiarly bowlegged gait of exhausted types who 
are being required to sit between. Goading herself to with 
an effort, Angelica thought how all about them were ranged 
Dickens and Thackeray, Hardy and Meredith, Smollett and 
Sir Walter Scott and Bulwer-Lytton, rank on rank. Nothing 
in her aunt's tradition equipped her to comprehend that at 
this very moment in her house events were boiling to a 
climax. Angelica's choice of alternatives was pellucid; get 
rid of her aunt, or explain to the woman that action was 
neural. 

She was not long in taking the easier course. 

"Look, Aunt Aurora, it may rain and I shan't have you 
missing your walk. We insist. I'll take Mt. Auburn on a rum- 
mage through these. Anyhow, think of your hovering about 
not letting me weed out the awful ones of me." Somehow 
her aunt was bundled out the front door, tucking on the 
porkpie and readjusting the camera looped once more on 
her shoulder. 

Returning to the library Angelica saw Mt. Auburn in- 
specting a lesion in a lighted cigar. He sat on the end of the 
sofa next the table, one ankle on a knee, a hand flat on the 
tussock of envelopes which Aunt Aurora in rising had tum- 
bled on the center cushion. He hummed a few measures of 
something and plucked a loose thread from his trouser cuff, 



Touch and Go 

with an air of imposture. "I mean there are relatives who 
want a chap on toast," he said. 

Angelica picked up the envelopes and sat down with them. 
With a meticulous Inefficiency she opened one and slid out 
the contents. She was a while sorting them in her lap: Mt. 
Auburn, the coal of his cigar pointed at the ceiling, took in 
the rather dental grimace of a bearskin rug at the other end 
of the room. At length Angelica passed him a sheaf. He 
shuffled through it with a frown of response. 

"But these are negatives," he said. 

"I did so not want to be obvious." 

The sensations of love had always set themselves forth to 
Angelica as those of something delicious eaten in anxiety. 
She pursued it with a guarded ecstasy, a kind of wary bliss, 
which made it natural for her now to watch with her head 
lowered and out of the tail of her eye, watch with a keyed 
readiness as Mt. Auburn reached a hand to her and brought 
his fist down softly on her knee several times, as though he 
were trying to invent a new impulse. 

She said: "You say you're fond of me. I don't suppose you 
could say 'I love you'?" 

"That's not fair. There are things it would break all the 
teeth in a chap's head to get off." 

Putting aside the pictures she rose and went to the mantel 
to which she clung as though to an escarpment. Yet when 
she brought her brow to rest on the back of one hand she 
gave an effect of almost languid thought. She was thinking 
how the perils of intimacy had, among the over-evolved, in 
our time, made the double bed give way to singles, these 
in turn to separate rooms. "I suppose," she said, "you figure 
we could each have our own" He spared her having to 
bring out "room." 

"Yes, I've been thinking, now that you mention it, I mean 



Touch and Go 

I don't imagine two smallish flats would be terribly more 
than one large Oh, in the same building of course . . ." 

When she straightened and turned, she gave her head a 
toss, like one who has just broken water. She had never 
realized how much of the maternal there was in her feeling 
toward Mt. Auburn till now when she wanted to lead him 
somewhere, conceivably back to London, by one ear. Instead 
she commenced a search among the shelves for something, 
running a finger along the titles as if it were a divining rod 
that might help her locate what it was. 

"Angelica, what are you looking for?" he asked. 

"I don't know," she answered. She had the certainty she 
would know it w r hen she came to it: just as she had recog- 
nized, simply in coming to it, the end of "them" and, in all 
of this, the end of youth as well. 

Youth comes to an end in the afternoon. Middle age ar- 
rives in the evening, with the first book one rereads, but 
youth draws to a close in the afternoon, particularly a Friday 
afternoon in autumn. There is a premonitory chill in the air 
where lately summer may have lingered in a blue and gold 
reprieve, a ripple of shadow while it is still light, twisting 
the hearts of weekenders. The country dallier, knowing he 
must return to the city, tastes in advance those dumb, vel- 
vety, smothered moods of early dusk, when against the loom- 
ing gray buildings the rain seems a liquefaction of light 
subtly distinguishable from the twilit texture of spring whose 
light appears rather a rarefaction of rain. Even the unin- 
structed spirit senses, for all autumn's quickened tempo, 
this transposition to a minor key. But if one has suffered the 
asphyxiation of some hope not necessarily a grief but at 
least a recession of outlook then this seasonal drawing in 
symbolizes a larger human contraction: the intimation that 
we live, after all, not on the earth but in the world, a world 



Touch and Go 

of betrayal and complicity. The images that have been sin- 
gled out and prized by memory slants of early snow, a tree 
tweaked by wind, street lamps blooming alight and that 
have come to reiterate a fixed emotion, like hieroglyphs, will 
now sharply gain in venerability, like, to alter the metaphor 
as well, coins that have acquired a numismatic value. 

Angelica foresaw herself walking the streets and entering 
lighted rooms without Mt. Auburn. Mt. Auburn was the 
Individual: and that was a squeezed orange. With him, one 
would go quite to bits. There was nothing for it but to start 
fresh from the other end: if one could not humanize from 
above, then refine from below. She was thinking of the wire- 
haired ad model who had popped his head in a while ago, 
and it was with him intruding on the edge of her mind that 
she was searching among the shelves. Her finger, as if indeed 
a dowsing wand with a discernment of its own, came to rest 
on a volume of poetry. She drew it out with a smile This 
poet was the very golden mean of British taste: as de trop 
to the likes of Mt. Auburn as he would be elevating to one 
still wanting in criteria. 

She turned and started out of the room. She paused over 
Mt. Auburn, whose cigar had perished on the rim of an ash- 
tray where he had left it. She looked down at it with that 
mild bemusernent of people contemplating a leftover piece 
of something they have taken apart and put together again. 
Then she went on out of the library and out of the house, 
to the lawn. The book she clasped gave her a sense of having 
split the British Isles down the middle, yet with a gesture as 
simple as Mt. Auburn tidying the cleft in his Homburg, 
"escaping." 

There was a mixed-doubles match in progress on the court, 
but Ad Model wasn't even watching, let alone playing, so 
his gallop through the house asking for players had been 
humorous. He was with a group on the grass, sitting each 

176 



Fall Guy 

in a halo of gnats. She marched through a gap in the privet 
and continued toward them. She let her eye rest for the 
merest moment on his, as, wagging the volume aloft, she said, 
approaching, smiling: 
"Tennyson, anyone?" 



FALL GUY 

I WAS STARING, chin in hand, out of the window of my usual 
morning train to the city when a man sitting beside me 
turned and said, "Commuting with nature?" I murmured 
something noncommittal. He was a smoking-car acquaintance 
named Shenstone, who customarily got on the train at Darien. 
He had taken to joining me whenever he found me alone, 
and drawing me into conversation on themes laid down by 
himself. These themes had a kind of unity, for it was Shen- 
stone's wont to air his private affairs in the third person, as 
though he were talking about somebody else, and to clothe 
them in terms abstract enough to make them sound like 
algebraic problems. I wondered what might be on his mind 
this morning. 

"Family A is related to Family B by marriage the wives 
are sisters and they take turns having each other over for 
Sunday dinner," he said presently, though I had unfolded a 
Times that had lain in my lap since I got on the train at 
Westport. "Family A will have B over one Sunday, and then 
a month or two later, say, B will do the honors. Fair?" 

"Fair," I said. 

"But A has two children while B has five," he went on, 
"so for each time B feeds four mouths, A has to feed seven." 
Shenstone amplified this with such pique that I had no doubt 

'77 



Fall Guy 

I was talking to the head of A. "Now is it fair?" he asked. 

"Not if you look at it that way, it doesn't seem fair," I 
replied. 

"I mean if you were the head of A, wouldn't you think it 
was a racket?" he persisted. He turned his round, leathery 
face abruptly to me with a kind of truculent sociability. "I 
mean year after year? " 

"Definitely," I said, and spread my paper wide. 

Several mornings later, Shenstone joined me in the smoker 
again. He slung his topcoat and hat on the luggage rack, 
hiked up his trouser legs, and sat down. He set fire to a 
cigarette and dropped the match in the aisle. "Well, I re- 
peated what you said the other day," he remarked. 

"Repeated what? To whom?" I asked. 

"About the two families trading dinners, remember? I told 
the fall guy's wife that a friend of mine had said the whole 
thing struck him as definitely a racket for the family with 
the most kids, and, boy, your ears must have been ringing." 
Shenstone's face was wreathed in sardonic amusement. 

I slid up in my seat. "I don't think I said that, exactly," 
I answered. "If I did, I was just agreeing with you." 

"Think nothing of it," Shenstone said. "This woman is on 
the defensive because the one with the five kids is her sister." 
He shook his head ruefully. "That whole thing is only rub 
number one in this man's family." 

I began to unfold my Times. 

"The family sphere is the be-all and end-all of a woman's 
life, but it's only part of a man's," he said. "That's why you 
get arguments, ructions, and hell and high water. Of the 
other spheres in a man's life," he continued, "I'd put business 
second. Sphere Three is sports and recreation. Sphere Four, 
stag society. Of course, some of these spheres overlap. Any- 
how, I happen to know that in this case there's a definite 

178 



Fall Guy 

conflict between Sphere One and all the rest." He looked at 
me. "What's this guy to do?" 

"That's hard to say unless you know the person himself/' 
I replied. 

"Names I can't mention," Shenstone said. "Suffice it to say 
he's no knothead fellow with a systematic mind, and a 
good provider, though all he gets it in is the neck from all 
sides. I happen to be close to this family too close for 
comfort, I sometimes think. The complaints against him 
range from objections to his using curse words to why 
doesn't he get into some other line of work. Now I ask you, 
how long can a man go on letting people sandbag him out 
of what he wants?" 

"It seems a problem," I answered cautiously. After an in- 
terval, I asked him, "By the way, what do you do?" 

"I'm trying to get out a beer-vending machine," he said. 
"It's got a lot of bugs in it, but I'm hopefuL But getting back 
to this fellow, shouldn't a man insist on living his own life?" 

"Absolutely," I said, and got behind my paper. 

There was a bug in that device; spreading it open to get 
behind it more or less put Shenstone there with me. He 
turned and said in a lower tone, "It means all of Sphere One, 
including relatives, will crack do\vn on him." 

This had the effect of plunging us both into gloom for the 
remainder of the journey. "I'll probably be seeing you again 
soon," I said apprehensively as we parted in Grand Central 
Terminal. 

Soon enough, it turned out. 

As I was climbing the stairs to the Forty-third Street exit 
of the station some days later, Shenstone trotted up and fell 
in beside me. 

"Well, you blew things higher than a kite that time," he 
announced. 

"In what way?" I inquired. 



Fall Guy 

"This fellow took your advice and laid it on the line about 
how everybody has an absolute right to live his own life, let 
the chips fall where they may. And, brother, are they fall- 
ing!" He took my elbow and steered me through the door- 
way into the Biltmore and toward a coffee shop. "Come on, 
let's have a second breakfast," he said. 'Til fill you in." 

He did this over coffee and my protestations. Sphere One, 
he explained, was now trying to overflow and dominate all 
the others, in order to snuff out certain wants and wishes in 
a man. To that end, more and more relatives had been get- 
ting their two cents in. He had it on good authority that an 
ultimatum on the domestic front had been given this chap, 
who very much needed advice friendly advice. Shouldn't 
the man defy the ultimatum and make a stand for his integ- 
rity and independence even if it meant pulling out? 

"Out of the house?" I said. 

"Wouldn't you?" 

What was this game Shenstone played with himself, I won- 
dered, of extorting sanctions for courses of action already 
cut and dried? Now he was trying to wangle out of me a 
recommendation that he walk out on his family unless, of 
course, I was mistaken in rny surmise that it was his own 
grievances he had been so deviously hashing over. I gingerly 
put out what I thought might be a test question. "If you 
won't tell me who this chap is, at least tell me something 
more about him," I said. "What's he like?" 

"He's a fool," Shenstone answered. 

This took me by surprise. "How do you mean?" I asked. 

"He lets people walk all over him. He's patient to a fault." 
Those words and a subtle alteration in his skin tones, as he 
looked away, confirmed my original assumption. "Isn't it an 
outrage?" he presently demanded, fishing angrily for my 
blessing. 

"Isn't what an outrage?" I asked, growing indignant my- 

i So 



Fall Guy 

self. "For instance, what are some of these wants and wishes? 
What are some of the things they're trying to sandbag him 
out of? And so on," 

"Things a man has a right to," he retorted, and when I 
said nothing, he continued, "Well? Isn't it an outrage, from 
where you sit?" I maintained a stout silence. "Aren't you 
going to give your opinion of this rank imposition?" 

I chose my words carefully. 

"There are times," I said, wrapping a finger around the ear 
of my coffee cup, "when a man has to be firm." 

"I'll buy that," said Shenstone. 

The next day, I spotted him getting on at Darien with two 
Gladstone bags. This was really too much! So when I saw 
him peering, in search of my face, from the vestibule of the 
car I was riding in, I quickly unfolded my Times and put 
my face behind it. I sat crooked and well down in the seat, 
with the newspaper forming a right angle so that one side of 
it screened me from the aisle. Remaining motionless, like a 
deer in cover, I was able to escape detection and was joined 
by nothing worse than a woman in tweeds who passed the 
journey violently editing business reports with a blue pencil. 
In Grand Central, I succeeded in ducking unsnared out of 
the train onto the station platform, and was congratulating 
myself on having, as I thought, melted into the crowd, when 
Shenstone materialized on my left and, breathing heavily, said 
as he drew abreast. "Well, you weren't just flapping your lip 
that time you damn well laid it on the line. There are times 
when a man has to be firm." 

"Where do you think you're going?" I asked, glancing 
down at the bags. 

"To the Waldorf." 

"Then it was you all along not a friend," I said. 

He set down the suitcases to secure his grip on them. I did 
not offer to help him with them. "I've barked my shins on 

181 



Fall Guy 

enough," he said, picking up the bags and toiling up the ramp 
beside me. "They asked for it." He had on a corduroy hat 
that was Alpine In derivation, and a light-colored topcoat of 
such length as to resemble a deliveryman's duster. 

"We're going to have a second breakfast," I said, "and a 
little talk." 

"First breakfast," he corrected me sardonically, "speaking 
for yours truly." 

"A plain, straight-from-the-shoulder talk," I said. 

"Check," said Shenstone. 

Following him through the door into the coffee shop, I 
said In commanding tones, "You're going to stop this non- 
sense and go back home!" 

He banged his way among a congestion of tables to a 
corner, where he dropped the luggage and said "Whew!" 
We hung up coats and hats and, that done, stood waiting for 
a table to be cleared, and then for impurities to be flicked 
from chairs. I cursed the day I had ever laid eyes or, to be 
more accurate with a locution that is at best untidy, ears 
on Shenstone. But at last we were seated. I nursed a cup of 
coffee while Shenstone had a double orange juice, ham and 
eggs, toast, marmalade, and coffee, eating as though revolt 
had rendered him ravenous. He brooded into his orange juice 
In a way that give it the quality of a highball, hunching over 
the table and .moving the glass around between his hands. 
"You see, there's a new intruder at the house, which I'll call 
Factor X 7 " he said. "It's a familiar joke about married life, 
only it's no joke. It's a certain somebody that's like a bag- 
pipenice in the distance." 

"Like a bagpipe nice in the distance," I put the words to 
myself, like a riddle. Then I thought, Mother-in-law. She's 
moved in and he's moved out. The last straw. This was, of 
course, pure guesswork, but it had the merit of conferring 
coherence and shape on the lather of ambiguities I had been 

282 



Fall Guy 

fed. So, keeping his problem in that focus, I lectured Shen- 
stone, while he ate, on the frailty and folly of running away. 
"Now, I want to see you on that evening train," I concluded 
sternly, though we never met riding back from the city 
only going in. 

He shook his head. "Wait till things settle down to a dull 
roar," he said. "I left everybody steaming under the collar 
this morning, including Factor X." 

"I hope you didn't mention my name," I said, running a 
finger under my own. 

a Oh, you've been a great help I mean getting me to take 
a straight, hard look at the facts, at the way things are with 
me and mine," he said. "Let's hope it all comes out in the 
wash, but meanwhile, since I won't be seeing you on the 
train" he dug in a pocket for a pencil "give me your 
phone number in the city here, so I'll know where I can get 
in touch with you." 

"I'm going on a trip," I quickly fabricated. I tumbled a 
quarter onto the table for my coffee, and rose. 

As I got into my coat, Shenstone shook his head reminis- 
cently. "I told them plenty when I packed up and got out," 
he said. 

"What did you tell them?" I asked. 

"That a man's home is his castle," Shenstone said. 

It was difficult to know how to meet this. Resentful as I 
was at having been made free with, I nevertheless felt that 
in parting I ought to volunteer a word of wisdom. I said the 
only thing that came into my head. I intended something 
austere, but it didn't come out that way. "Well, you've got 
to pick a rope apart before you can splice it," I said. I had 
no idea what it meant. 

Shenstone told me, about a month afterward. I was taking 
a seven-o'clock train home from New York later than my 



fall Guy 

usual one. It was still standing in the station, and I was read- 
ing the evening paper, when I heard a familiar voice say, 
"Well, well, look who's here!" 

Shenstone grinned down at me. He \vas holding a package 
of bakery goods from Schrafft's in one hand, and in the other, 
a conical parcel in green paper that could only be a bouquet 
of flowers. He seemed in good spirits. "I've been looking for 
you, but I don't take the same train in the morning now," he 
said. "I take a later one." He stowed the Schrafft's package 
on the luggage rack with his hat and coat, and sat down 
with the flowers in his lap. "I want to thank you." 

"So you do go back and forth," I said. 

Shenstone nodded, in thoughtful contemplation as much as 
in reply. "You were right that last time," he said, sliding 
down in the seat and hiking his knees up on the back of the 
seat ahead. "You sure as hell hit the nail on the head that 
time." 

"Oh? How so?" I asked. 

"When you said how you have to tear a broken rope 
some more before you can splice it. You were right at every 
turn,, but you said a mouthful that time. Things had to get 
worse at our place before they could get better." 

"They're better now?" I asked, gratified. 

He nodded again. "Certain elements could only be cleared 
up by being cleared out," he told me. "Well, concessions 
have been exchanged, things have canceled other things out. 
The step I took was the thunderbolt that cleared the air. If 
I hadn't made an issue out of it, like you told me, why, we'd 
probably have gone along with what the doctors call a low- 
grade infection, just enough to make you feel lousy but not 
enough to make your system get cutting on it. But my boil- 
ing over brought things to a head and put the fire out." 

"I see," I said, dazed by the variety of metaphors that 
could be adduced in this connection. 

284 



Fall Guy 

"A bone is strongest where it's been broken," Shenstone 
went irrepressibly on, "and that's us. I want to thank you." 
He beamed with such warmth that for a moment I thought 
he was going to give me the flowers. 

"You're entirely welcome," I said, mentally adding yet 
another metaphor to those we had amassed, one perhaps more 
apt than any of the others namely that they grease the 
wheel that squeaks. Shenstone's profile, at which I presently 
stole a glance, showed the composure of demands met rather 
than the strains of arbitration undergone, and I did not ask 
what latitudes had been given or taken, what had become of 
Factor X, or how things stood between Families A and B. 
Those were sleeping dogs. 

That was the last I ever saw of Shenstone, for our com- 
muting orbits no longer cross at all. I am, somehow, confi- 
dent he will not return, streaking erratically, like a comet, 
back into mine. I make a practice of reading books on the 
train now, principally criticism and meaty biographies. I have 
learned that a newspaper is at best a tentative and imperfect 
bulwark, and that one is less liable to invasion behind some- 
thing like In Search of Chopin or Four Hundred Centimes 
of Cave Art. 

Often, again, if my seatmate is immersed in literature of 
his own, or seems otherwise a safe risk, I let what I'm reading 
drop into my lap and commute with nature. I'm glad things 
have settled down to something better than a dull roar for 
Shenstone and his, and also that I am regarded, at least by 
Shenstone, as having been instrumental in their repair. De- 
spite the obliquity of my impressions and the prejudice 
through which they were filtered, I feel, as the saying goes, 
that I know his family. But there's a disquieting side to that. 
It causes me qualms when I think that I might someday run 
into Shenstone when he's with one or another of them, and 

185 



You and Who Else? 

have to be introduced. They probably feel, and a good deal 
more strongly, that they know me, too. 



YOU AND WHO ELSE? 

PALEY was planning to tell his wife he was mixed up with 
Mrs. Tatum, Ten months before, they'd been thrown to- 
gether on a citizens' study committee for improvement of 
the town museum, and, the committee's work done but their 
relations rooted, he had managed a series of fairly regular 
rendezvous since, simply by telling his wife he was out bowl- 
ing at Pfemister's Greater Alleys a ruse that had cost him 
nothing but the sacrifice of that recreation. Now Mrs. Tatum 
didn't feel she could go on in this clandestine and demoral- 
izing way; it was time, she thought, that he brought matters 
to a head and made a choice one way or another. She her- 
self happened to be a divorcee. 

Watching his wife carry her sewing paraphernalia to the 
living-room sofa after dinner, Paley thought he ought to 
break the news before she got to work on a suede blazer of 
his that was included in a pile of garments she had collected 
to mend. But she took up a blouse of hers first, and he sat 
silent. He watched her yank off a loose button preliminary 
to sewing it on securely. The act seemed to establish their 
evening tableau, and the tableau to define the limits of their 
bond. Where this left off, the other began; just beyond the 
circuit of conventional cooking and remembered buttons lay 
the sour-cream dishes and worldly inflections of Mrs. Tatum. 

"What are you trying to do, hypmatize me?" his wife 
asked, with no apparent need to raise her eyes to know his 
own were fixed on her. 

186 



You and Who Else? 

Hypmatize, he thought. How, having been exposed to 
Mrs. Tatum's wave length, could he be satisfied with a 
woman who kept port in the icebox and said "hypmatize"? 
Still, telling her would not be easy. Mrs. Taturn said a woman 
was like the mandrake, which, according to legend, shrieks 
when uprooted. 

He went to the kitchen for some ice cubes, and while 
carrying them to the cellarette in the living room and mixing 
up a highball, he looked back on the sixteen years of his 
marriage. He reviewed the little private jokes, the household 
shorthand. There had been, from the first, an imaginary Mr. 
Quackenbush, who represented overtime. "I've got to see 
Mr. Quackenbush, so don't expect me home for dinner," he 
would phone from the city to say. "Well, get rid of him as 
soon as possible," his wife would answer. "Allardyce never 
did this." Allardyce was her mythical first husband a de- 
vice she would use to chide him whimsically. "Allardyce 
never spilled ashes on the rug," she would say. These things 
now made him wince. The names were all wrong he could 
see that. 

He finished making his drink and sat down with it, remem- 
bering other things. Sometimes he had come home with a 
crazy story, such as the announcement that he had been em- 
bezzling funds at the office, and they would make a rigma- 
role of that. He gave a shake of his head, as though this 
might shed the plague of reminiscence. 

"What's the matter with you?" his wife asked. 

"I'm having an affair," he said. 

"Oh?" she said. "You and who else?" 

"Mrs. Tatum." He rose, walked over to a stand of plants 
near the window, and inanely inspected a bloom. After some 
moments of silence, he looked over his shoulder, and saw 
that his wife was holding up the blouse in both hands, for 
scrutiny, and smiling absently. 



You and Who Else? 

"And you want your freedom," she said, in a tone familiar 
to him as the one with which she had always fallen in with 
his folderoL A slight chill raised the hairs along the back of 
his neck. She settled herself with a cozy wriggle. "So she is 
now the light of your life, the object of all your dreams," 
she went on, with excruciating zest. 

Standing in the middle of the room, with one hand in his 
trousers pocket, Paley finished off his drink in four swallows, 
letting the ice cubes slide against his teeth as the last of the 
liquid trickled through. The cubes dropped with a clunk 
when he lowered the glass. "Right," he said. He set the glass 
down on the coifee table. 

"Well, you owed it to me to tell me, and I appreciate 
that," she said. She selected a sourball from a dish on the 
table and poked it into her mouth. He picked up his glass 
again and headed for the cellarette. 

"I was with her on that study committee, you know. We 
were thrown together a lot," he said. "Well, the committee 
disbanded, and, finding we had to see each other, we did so 
secretly." 

"Real clandestine," she said, bringing Paley's problem to 
further focus by stressing the first syllable of the word. 

"Real clandestine," he echoed, by way of bearing down on 
an aching tooth. 

His wife grinned, the sourball tucked in one cheek. "She 
still say 'an hardware store'?" she asked. She paused to re- 
flect. "Where was it we stopped to talk to her and she told 
us about the 'warranty' on her gas stove that she couldn't get 
any satisfaction on?" 

"At the tobacconist's," he answered. 

Mrs. Paley bobbed her head in fresh mirth. " Tobacco- 
nist.' That's right. Another one of her words. Little old 
Sontag and his cigar store. A tobacconist." She savored this, 
then continued, musingly, after a moment, "Old Somerset." 

if 8 



You and Who Else? 

He dropped another cube of ice into his glass with a clack. 
"Old what?" 

"Oh, one of the women at the bridge club calls her that. 
She says 'somerset' for 'somersault.' " 

"She doesn't say 'somersault' for 'somerset,' " he said 
tersely. 

"How about it?" she asked. "You used to that walking- 
on-eggs way she has of talking yet, through all the nights of 
love?" 

He was almost more aware of the clatter of the candy in 
her teeth than of her words. He debated waiting till the 
sourball had dissolved before trying to get a grip on the dis- 
cussion. But he poured bourbon over the ice, splashed in 
some sparkling water, and plowed ahead. "She doesn't say 
'wreckanize,' " he said, in a voice that had gained in tension 
what it might have lost in volume. 

Mrs. Paley raised her head and looked at him. She watched 
his back as long as he stood with it turned to her, "She says 
'Friday next.' " She also spoke in a just perceptibly lowered 
tone. "She says 'Friday next,' and 'bet your boots,' when 
even Englishmen say 'betcha boots.' " 

He turned around, and her head dropped again over her 
work. 

"She doesn't say 'hypmatize,' " he said, crossing the room 
with the glass in his hand. "And she doesn't say 'ap-pricot' 
and 'dark-complected' and 'umpteen.' " He stood beside the 
window. "And you don't have to tell me her diction is good. 
I know that." 

She ground up the candy with her teeth and then was a 
while swallowing the fragments. "We used to call it elocu- 
tion," she said when the crunching had died away. She held 
the garment at arm's length once more for inspection. "I will 
say she was good at teaching it to the kids for graduation 
exercises and all, whatever name you want to call it by," 



You and Who Else? 

Mrs. Paley said fairly. "But then her appearance is in her 
favor. I always said it was imposing, with those large, dark, 
horn-rimmed glasses." 

Standing at the window looking out, Paley took a sip of 
his highball "Mrs. Tatum is the only woman in this town 
you can get conversation out of, as distinguished from just 
talk," he said. 

"Can you remember any, offhand?" Mrs. Paley picked 
snippets of thread and stored them on her tongue. 

He brushed a speck from the sill with his little finger. 
"Once she said, 'One gets what one pays for in cheap restau- 
rants, just as one pays for what one gets in good ones. 7 " He 
turned to regard his wife for the effect of this. 

She worked the tips of her pinking shears around an inside 
seam, drawing her lips taut in the effort. "What else?" 

He could recall other minor but perceptive remarks Mrs. 
Tatum had made, such as the observation that all business 
colleges are on the second floor and that realtors sit in their 
offices with their hats on, but he saw no need to squander 
them in this discussion. "She's a woman of refinement," he 
said. "She's got over three hundred classical phonograph rec- 
ords." 

"Not alone that, she puts *ish* behind more things than any- 
body." His wife drew a fresh length of thread from a spool. 
"I sat next to her at a table at the country-club dance for a 
half hour, and in that time the weather was goodish, the 
orchestra was fairish, and let's see, what else? she had to 
go because it was oneish." 

"What if I asked for a divorce?" 

She broke off the thread and wet the end of it between her 
lips. Paley stooped to fish a handful of salted nuts from a dish 
on a table near him. "I suppose," she said, aiming her thread 
at the eye of her needle, "that you were gadding around 

1 9 



You and Who Else? 

with her all those nights when you told me you were out with 
Quackenbush." 

"Quackenbush hasn't got anything to do with this!" he said, 
spreading his arms. "Let's leave Quackenbush out of it!" 

"Well!" she said, dropping her hands in her lap with 
elaborate distress, for she had no intention of being lured into 
the key he was striving to pitch the colloquy in. "A divorce." 
She resumed threading the needle. "Just leave me your shirt," 
she said, pulling the thread through and knotting the two ends 
with a single movement of one hand that always impressed 
him. u The same as I got out of Allardyce, you know. No need 
for any trouble that I can see. The car is in my name, I co- 
own the house, and the bank account is joint." She rummaged 
in the pile of clothing beside her on the sofa and brought up 
the blazer. "I'll fight to the best of my ability to save you from 
yourself, the same as I did with Allardyce, and if it's no go 
why, I'll have plenty consolation." 

Paley had once tried to stand up in a hammock. He and 
several others had had a sort of contest to see who could stay 
longest on his feet. He had kept his balance for a few mo- 
ments, swinging violently from side to side, and finally pitched 
off. He had a sensation of rocking similarly now. 

"I think I'd like a drink, too/' Mrs. Paley said, settling the 
blazer on her lap to sew a button on that also. He started for 
the cellarette. "No, some port. There's a bottle in the icebox." 

Now he pitched out of the hammock. He had long ago 
pointed out that putting port on ice was ridiculous, that no- 
body did it, only to have her dig out a women's magazine 
with an article about drinks in it. It contained the statement 
"A few drinkers know that the English occasionally chill 
port, mostly for use as an aperitif." He had gnashed his teeth 
at the ground this lost him at the hopelessness of ever ex- 
plaining that only by the purest fluke had she hit on this thing, 
that you had to know enough not to chill port before you 



You and Who Else? 

did chill it. You reached a point where you said "swanky," 
then passed it. She had reached it; he had passed it. 

Paley got the port without audible protest, poured a glass, 
and set it beside her. "What consolation did you mean a 
minute ago?" he asked. "Holding me up for the house and 
all?" 

Having disposed of the hoard of snippets in an ashtray, she 
sipped the wine, then put it down with a gratified exhalation, 
"That and the alimony," she said, "There are lots of ways of 
getting a man's shirt, you know." 

He snickered carefully into his glass, which he had picked 
up again. "That's what they're all after," he said. "That's the 
last word these days." 

"It's mine." She continued her sewing. He sat with his el- 
bows on his knees and his drink in his two hands. She glanced 
up presently. "So when shall I see my lawyer?" she inquired 
brightly, resuming the rigmarole. 

A married friend of Paley's named Bethune had once 
strayed into an affair. At a crucial moment, when he had had 
to decide whether he was going to go ahead whole hog or 
drop the thing completely, he had summarized his feelings to 
himself with unexpected simplicity. Oh, the hell with it! was 
the sum of his thinking. "It's just too much bother," he'd said 
to Paley later, assessing the passion. "It's just too goddam 
much bother," This, and not conscience or integrity, 
Bethune claimed, kept 90 percent of the faithful husbands out 
of affairs and got 90 percent of the others out after they were 
in. 

Almost simultaneously with recalling this conversation, 
Paley thought of something else his last phone call to Mrs. 
Tatum. "Have you talked to her yet?" she had asked. "I can't 
go on like this sub rosa." 



You and Who Else? 

"Well, all right," he'd said. "I'll just feel things out. Then 
I'll decide." 

"And after that I suppose it will be told in Gath and pub- 
lished in the streets of Askelon." 

Paley had paused, settling the receiver more securely 
against his ear. "What did you say?" 

"I say, I suppose it will be told in Gath and published in 
the streets of Askelon," she had repeated, in modulations with 
which he had the sudden illusion of long familiarity unless 
it was the warning premonition of it. "Can you understand 
me?" 

"Not quite," he had answered, after a prolonged silence. 
"Maybe this is a poor connection," 

"Well, come as soon as you've news," she had said. 
"Wednesday would be good. Eight-thirtyish." 

His wife's voice broke, preternaturally, into this rumina- 
tion. 

"I wonder why her first husband left her," she said, "It 
was desertion, wasn't it?" 

Paley rose with a heavy sigh and dusted his hands together, 
though it was some time since he had eaten any nuts. He 
strolled toward the mantel, where his eye lit speculatively on 
a pair of heavy brass candlesticks. "I could kill you," he im- 
provised. 

She laughed responsively, wound the thread deftly around 
the button a few times, fastened it on the underside, then 
snapped it off with her teeth, glancing up at him. "There," 
she said, throwing him the blazer, which he caught. "I think 
you'll find that's on for keeps." 

A short time later, Paley left the room abruptly and went 
to the front closet, "I'm going out," he said. 

She leaned to one side to see through the vestibule doorway 
and watched him. "Going bowling?" she called. 



Nobody's Fool 

He reached into the closet for his hat. "I can't tell you 
where I'm going," he said. "I can't say." She rose and went 
out to the vestibule. He put on his hat and opened the front 
door. "I'll be back later," he said, and went out and down the 
steps. 

She stood in the lighted doorway as he walked to the drive- 
way, got into the car, started the engine, and drove off. She 
watched till he was out of sight, then went back inside and 
closed the door slowly. 

Paley continued for several blocks to a highway. He turned 
left on it, and presently saw come into view the lights of 
Pfemister's Greater Alleys. He pulled in there and parked his 
car on the lot, which was crowded. Standing outside the car, 
after he'd locked it, he looked at the building and drew 
another long breath, this time of resumption and relief as 
though it were his first free one in a good while. He re- 
garded the lighted windows a moment, watching the shadows 
moving about behind them and wondering who of his friends 
would be on hand tonight. Then he hurried toward the wide, 
open doors, through which he could hear the rich, inviting 
thunder of the pins. 



NOBODY'S FOOL 

(A character or two over- 
looked in Miss Katherine 
Anne Porter's shipload) 

"THE CHARACTERS are all at sea," Mrs. Haverstick was explain- 
ing to them with her usual bitter charm, "and the reader is 
given the most vivid possible experience of being there with 

'94 



Nobody"** Fool 

them. Yes, that will be the scheme of the book. I see that more 
clearly with each chapter that I finish." 

Herr Gottschalk, seated beside her at the Captain's table, 
wondered only when she would finish the book. In one 
pocket of his coat was a radiogram from the publishing firm 
for which he worked, reading, "If you don't get it this time 
don't bother to come back/' in the other a small phial of pills 
whose bitter taste was ever on his tongue, either in memory 
or anticipation: 

He watched her pale hand what exquisite hands she had, 
how many men in times past must have been struck by them 
gesturing over her plate, then over his, as her description 
of the grand plan of the novel broadened out; it waved like a 
sea frond under his nose, mesmerizing him till his eyes crossed. 
He aspired to be her editor, therefore he sighed carefully, but 
the belt around his fat middle creaked like a ship's timber. 
What a symbolism! For ten years he had pursued her from 
one tropical paradise to another, each paradise a worse hell 
than the last, driven by the rumor that she was again at work 
on the book, lashed by the bitter dream that it might at last 
be his. He often saw himself as an Ahab on the track of a 
legendary whale. "There are times when I hate it," she said. 
As if he didn't! 

"Our author, then," the Captain broke in. He sat with his 
napkin tucked under his pink gills, his fists on the arms of his 
chair, as though he were going to punch them all in the nose 
for having come. He had heard for ten days from their lips 
nothing but names like Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, 
and Weltschmerz he knew the last was not the name of a 
writer but of some German dish, perhaps a good deal like 
sauerbraten. He did not want to hear any more about the 
characters in the book, for the time being, but he wished to 
give the beautiful English lady her head so that Herr Gott- 
schalk would not start one of his lectures on the inherent 



Nobody'' s Fool 

goodness of man. "Our author then has mixed feelings about 
the human race?" 

"Oh, yes. We cannot forever loathe. We must swing back 
occasionally to simple dislike. In this way a balance is kept." 

Mrs. Haverstick's reply was designed not so much to 
answer the Captain, who was in any case a swine and in no 
need of conversion, as to torture Herr Gottschalk a little. 
Whom she now considered with a lazy malice, leaning slightly 
away from him in her chair. "Though every prospect pleases, 
and only man is vile. Eh, Herr Gottschalk?" she teased in her 
rather bitterly musical voice. Gottschalk was seized with the 
wish to rap her knuckles with the butt of his knife, but in- 
stead squeezed over them the juice of half a lemon intended, 
in point of actual fact, for his sole. That would teach her to 
deny the inherent nobility of man, his action seemed to say. 

Almost instantly there writhed across his lips the apologetic 
smile for which he was in fact more famous than for such 
independent deeds. Mrs. Haverstick remained smilingly quiet; 
her tawny eyes, so like bees darting this way and that, took 
on a momentarily sated look. He had met her standards, for 
the time being. 

Yet revolt was not entirely gone out of him. "I'm nobody's 
fool," he muttered, forlornly. 

"You should find someone," Frau Hindendorf spoke up. 
She had finished gobbling her fish and was now ready to 
catch up on the conversation in a more intelligent fashion 
while she waited for dessert. She wore a plain blue linen dress 
and white beads, and on her arm an amorous bruise. "We all 
need someone to belong to in this world. To . . ." 

The ship's saloon was filling up rapidly after dinner, and as 
Herr Gottschalk rounded the doorway into it his nostrils en- 
countered the bitter smell of individuals. He hoped to find 



Nobody's Fool 

Mrs. Haverstick alone at a table. When he did his heart sank. 
"May I . . . ?" he began apprehensively. 

"Of course. Please sit down." 

Seated across from her, he felt a familiar dew gather on his 
brow. She seemed, herself, now, prepared to put him at his 
ease. She drew from her bag a bottle of Cointreau, unscrewed 
the cap, and began to pour the contents over her bare arms. 
She let it trickle along her wrists to her elbows, rubbing it 
gently, pleasurably into her skin, at the same time inhaling 
its fumes with a lost air, her eyes voluptuously closed. Was 
she inviting him into the ornate privacy of her life, if you 
could call it privacy? But it was the book he wanted, he re- 
minded himself sternly, the prize for which he had given up 
a decade of even the simple pleasures, let alone -the exotic. Yet 
she was a woman and he a man, so that chase also had some- 
thing of the bitter duplicity of love about which no one 
knew more than this woman. He tried to affect a lover's non- 
chalance as he pressed the bell for the waiter. God, the energy 
that went into indifference! 

The waiter came to take their orders. "Have you any 
cologne?" she asked. Herr Gottschalk became now quite 
terrified. He heard to his relief the waiter say no, with grati- 
tude saw him go off with their orders for highballs and re- 
turn in t\vo minutes with no further words spoken at their 
table. Herr Gottschalk raised his highball and with a flustered 
"Adios" which was what the South Americans seemed to be 
saying all the time, drank it down as though it were a glass 
of water, he was quite parched. 

Now he would make the pitch. It was all very well for the 
damned unwritten book to be a legend in her lifetime, but his 
was drawing to a close. Down the arches of how many years 
had he not followed her, not like the Hound of Heaven any 
more than a Captain Ahab, to be sure, but rather like some 
tireless meek mongrel trotting at her heels? The end of the 



Nobody's Fool 

book receded eternally before you like the horizon, and while 
she might be only forty-five and could wait ten more years, 
making it twenty in all, he was fifty-eight and could not. 

Mrs. Haverstick, who did not miss a trick even with her 
eyes closed, had seen the flush go up hk face and misunder- 
stood his emotion. Seeing through people sometimes made her 
miss what was inside them, but that was the price one paid 
for the gift of penetration. She thought he was still smarting 
under the incident at dinner. Men never know when to quar- 
rel, she thought; how to spare, against a hungrier day, the 
still uneaten portions of the heart. 

"There is something I must say tonight," Herr Gottschalk 
began, his voice gaining an unexpected octave in pitch. She 
saw him fidget in his pocket. He was nudging the cap off his 
own little bottle with a thumb, so as to have in readiness one 
of the tablets which had so often saved his life and might be 
called upon to perform the same role tonight. "You are getting 
off at Port-au-Prince, they say, to finish another chapter." 

"I hope to finish another chapter there," she said, kneading 
the aromatic liquid into her wrists, working it well down into 
the crevices of her fingers. "A page or two a day is all I can 
manage. Sometimes not that. It's slow going." 

"Of course. It is so rich. How far through it are you?" 

"Oh, a third. Perhaps a little less. Why?" 

He cleared his throat hoarsely and, reaching between his 
thighs with his free hand, hitched his chair an inch closer to 
the table. "I am too old to make advances to beautiful ladies, 
but I am still fortunately in a position to give them." The 
dog's smile writhed across his face again as he joked. "I am 
in a position to offer you a check for ten thousand dollars for 
what you have of the manuscript." 

She stopped kneading her hands and dropped them on the 
table, resting the undersides of her wrists against its edge. She 
looked at him quite blankly. "What manuscript?" 

198 



Nobody^s Fool 

"The -the Book." 

"You seem to be under some misconception, Heir Gott- 
schalk," she said. "This is not a book I am writing. It is a 
book I arn reading." 

Herr Gottschalk sat like something molded out of cheese, 
staring at the table as if into a pool of sharks. His head went 
forward, slowly, like that of a man descending willingly into 
whatever it was transfixed his gaze, not falling helplessly. 

"I'm a slow reader, and the book is long. And a masterpiece. 
One is sometimes discouraged, but one knows that what's 
there is worth staying with." She seemed to have forgotten 
Herr Gottschalk, and began to speak as though she were talk- 
ing to another woman with whom she was gossiping about a 
third. "She's a genius, of course, and genius always has the 
right to bore us now and then, for the sake of what's up 
ahead. And why does characterization for a woman so of- 
ten consist in having someone's number? Let me tell you 
about . . ." 

His fingers relinquished the bottle in his pocket. It was the 
great, really quite blissful Letting Go that he had always 
dreamed it would be. Even before his head struck the table 
he had the sensation of sinking leagues through- peaceful 
waters already far below the ship, into cool fathoms where he 
could rest forever among waving fronds and the great tides 
already tolling in his ears like a dim, delicious, distant 
bell . . . 

Mrs. Haverstick saw his head come to a stop among the 
litter of glasses, ashtrays, and spilled nuts on the tabletop. 
Rising, she reached across him and rang for the waiter. 

"Clear these things away," she said in her most pleasant 
manner. 



199 



BLOCK 

ON ONE OF HER TRIPS between the kitchen and the dining 
room, as she was gathering up the breakfast things, Mrs. Dun- 
stable happened to glance into the living room and saw that 
her husband was sitting there in his chair, still in the bathrobe 
in which he'd left the table. "Better get a move on," she 
called. "You'll be late for work." 

"I'm not going to work," Dunstable answered. 

Mrs. Dunstable went over and stood in the living-room 
doorway, with a stack of dishes in her hands. "What's the 
matter, don't you feel good?" she asked. 

"I feel all right," he said. "It's not that." 

"Then what is it? Because it's after eight," she said. 

Dunstable was a moment replying. "To tell you the truth," 
he said, "Fve developed a sort of emotional block about the 
office. I'm not going there." 

Mrs. Dunstable returned the dishes to the dining-room 
table. Then she went into the living room. "Is it that play we 
saw, about living beautifully and doing what you want?" she 
asked. 

"Oh, for God's sake!" Dunstable crossed his legs. "I'm try- 
ing to tell you, I've got this emotional block. Maybe you 
don't know what that is." 

"Of course I know what it is." Mrs. Dunstable had last en- 
countered the term only a few days before. In a daytime 
television serial she listened to,, there had been an artist, a 
painter, who'd had an emotional block about his work and 
had been unable to turn out any stuff till he got straightened 



200 



Block 

around. "But an emotional block about office <work?" she 
said. 

"Certainly," said Dunstable. "Why not? What's wrong 
with office work? I suppose you think I sit there all day with 
an eyeshade on, and cuff dusters. And that nobody like that 
could have an emotional block." 

Mrs. Dunstable removed last night's paper from a chair, laid 
it on a table, _and sat down in the chair. "Just how do you 
feel?" she asked. "Can you tell me more about it?" 

"I'm tied up in knots, is all," he said. "You know what that 
is." 

"Is everything all right at the office?" she asked sharply. 
"Are you on good terms with your boss?" 

"You mean Steve Smith?" he said, smiling ironically. "You 
heard what I said to Smith when we ran into him on the street 
during my vacation that time 'And how's Mrs. Smith and 
all the little Smithereens?' You heard that. What better terms 
do you want?" 

"Then what " she began. 

"I'm trying to tell you, if you'll sit still and listen a minute," 
he said. "I'm all bottled and jammed up. I couldn't turn out 
a decent tap of work if I did go back. I've gone absolutely 
stale. I've got to lie fallow for a while." 

"Oh, that!" Mrs. Dunstable smiled with relief. "Everybody 
gets to feeling that way," she said encouragingly. "Why, you 
can get it about running a house. Absolutely sick and tired 
of it." 

"It's not the same thing," Dunstable said tersely, looking 
over her head and out of a window behind her a window 
that offered him a view of successive suburban bungalows 
not perceptibly different from his own. 

"Yes, it is," she said. "But a person can't just stay home be- 
cause of it. Supposing I woke up tomorrow morning and said 

201 



Block 

I couldn't possibly fix another breakfast? What would you 
say?" 

"I'd say you were having a block just because I was," Dun- 
stable answered. "You belittle this just the way you belittle 
everything I have. Belittle and pooh-pooh. The way you be- 
littled that lumbago I had last week. You seem to begrudge 
me everything even that little lumbago." 

"That's not true," Mrs. Dunstable said. "It's not belittling. 
I'm only trying to keep your spirits up. What's a wife's duty 
if not to keep her husband's spirits up?" 

"Running his ailments down is no way to do it," Dunstable 
said. 

"All right. Let's let that part of it pass," she said. "But tied 
up in knots! When you put it that way, I think you're mak- 
ing a mountain out of a molehill Why, everybody thinks of 
you as being as steady and sound as they come." 

"There you go belittling again," Dunstable said. "Why 
can't I be tied up in knots? Who do you call tied up in knots? 
Fred Quayle, I suppose. You think he's so wonderful and in- 
teresting, always talking about what makes him tick and all. 
But outside of him name somebody you think is tied up in 
knots. Maybe we just don't talk the same language." 

Mrs. Dunstable said nothing for a few moments. Watching 
her keenly, Dunstable went on, "I suppose you think I'm a 
simple person." 

"Oh, not necessarily," she said. 

"Yes, you do. It's amazing," Dunstable observed, "how two 
people can live together for years and not have the slightest 
idea who they're married to. You, for instance. You take me 
for something easy, say, in the key of C" his eyes narrowed 
"when all the while maybe I've got five sharps." 

Mrs. Dunstable looked from her husband to her hands in 
her lap. "AH right," she said. "Maybe you have this block and 
are tied up in knots. There's a lot of that going around." 

202 



Block 

Dunstable began to search for his pipe, which he found un- 
der the paper his wife had laid on the table. He gave it a suck 
to check the draft but did not immediately fill it. He circled 
the room chewing the stem, one hand in the pocket of his 
robe, and Mrs. Dunstable found that the words to pursue the 
discussion came readily enough. 

"Why can't you go down to the office?" she asked. "Is it 
for fear of failure?" 

"Or of success, maybe. Of crystallizing," Dunstable said, 
hitching up the braided cord of his bathrobe. "Why, even 
lunch has gotten to be a ritual." 

"How?" 

"It's not just that I go to the same restaurants and order the 
same things in rotation," Dunstable said. "It's more than that. 
When I eat a sandwich, it's the same as the way you may have 
noticed I eat a piece of toast in the morning. I eat it so the 
bites come out even with the coifee. I want to break all 
that up." 

"But aren't you stirring this up just to maybe make your- 
self out a person, or even to break the monotony, or to . . ." 
She permitted the sentence to expire, remembering that this 
was ground already conceded him. "What do you suppose is 
behind this ritual?" she resumed. "Do you suppose you go 
through it for some hidden reason? Or just because you've 
got five sharps?" 

"It might be a feeling of guilt," he said. "Or a tension about 
something else. Anything. A human being is like an iceberg, 
two- thirds under water." 

"Or he's like a soil that needs turning over now and then," 
she said, to show that such metaphors were at her own finger- 
tips. "What will you do about all this?" 

"Think things through till I can get myself squared away," 
Dunstable said. 

"What do you mean, squared away?" 

203 



Slock 

"Get straightened around," he said. "Get back some per- 
spective in my attitude toward my work." 

"Which I suppose you figure will take time." Mrs. Dun- 
stable sighed acquiescently. "Well, if that's the way you feel, 
that's the way you feel, I guess." 

He turned presently and, with a look of complete surprise, 
watched her go slowly back to her chores. 

Mrs. Dunstable's motions were automatic. She was unaware 
of the dishes in her hands as she carried them into the kitchen 
and washed them. She frowned as she worked, not in dis- 
approval but in thought. Once, she stepped to the doorway 
and looked into the living room. Dunstable was back in his 
chair, one foot on an ottoman, the pipe now kindled. He held 
it characteristically, a forefinger curled around the stem just 
behind the bowl, and he twitched his jaw muscles as he gazed 
through the clouds of smoke. She watched him while she dried 
a glass, then returned to the sink. By the time she had finished 
the dishes, the frown had left her face. Purposefully, she dried 
her hands, hung the towel on its rack, and went back into the 
living room. 

"The quickest way out of this thing is straight through it," 
she said, sitting down in the same chair as previously. "I think 
you should go to an analyst." 

He removed his pipe and looked at her, waving the smoke 
away to clear his view. "Really?" he said. 

She nodded. "I'm sorry I said you weren't tied up in knots, 
a while ago," she went on. "Actually, I feel that you're one 
of the most complicated men I know." 

Dunstable gave the gratified grunt of one flattered beyond 
a more articulate reply, and dropped his eyes. 

"I don't believe in letting an emotional block go," said Mrs. 
Dunstable. "I'd feel better in my own mind if you did some- 

204 



Slock 

thing definite about getting straightened around, rather than 
just trying to work it out in your own mind." 

Dunstable slid himself upright in his chair, propping his 
elbows on its arms. "It beats chasing your tail around in a 
stew," he assented. 

"Now, then," his wife said. "Do you know of a good 
analyst?" 

Dunstable rapped out his pipe in an ashtray on his left. 
"Well, Carmel Edison she's the woman who used to do our 
advertising layouts went to a man named Fanshaw that she 
swore by. I suppose I could see him." 

"Do that," Mrs. Dunstable said. "If he comes highly recom- 
mended, then see him." She sighed again, this time to express 
relief. "I'm glad that's settled. I think you ought to get busy 
on it as soon as possible." 

After a moment's silence, Dunstable rose. Picking a thread 
from her skirt, Mrs. Dunstable asked, "How much does this 
man charge?" 

"I think Carmel said thirty-five dollars an interview," he 
answered. 

"Thirty-five smackers!" she said. "Isn't that a lot of 
money?" 

He smiled charitably. "Not for an analyst," he said. "And 
for a good analyst it's cheap. Of course, I wouldn't go but 
once a week or so. That ought to do it." 

Mrs. Dunstable shook her head dubiously. "Even so, 
thirty-five dollars a week extra expense, when you're not 
working. I don't know " She broke off and got up herself, 
walking over to a window sill where there was a row of 
plants. She bent to scrutinize an avocado pit suspended in a 
tumbler of water by means of four toothpicks thrust into its 
sides like the spokes of a wheel and set on the rim of the 
glass. "Well, for heaven's sake, what do you know?" she said. 
"This thing is going to sprout after all!" She peered at it a 

205 



Block 

while longer, then straightened. "Why, I mean there you are," 
she said. "You want an analyst to get you back to work, but 
you need an income to pay the analyst/' 

"Like the Butterscotchmen," Dunstable said. '"Couldn't run 
till they got warm, and couldn't get warm till they ran." He 
flapped a hand, as though to ask what greater proof of intri- 
cacy was required. 

Frowning in helpful thought, Mrs. Dunstable said, "Of 
course, there's one way out." 

"What?" 

"Well, if you're really set on this thing, hold on to your 
job," she said. 

Dunstable turned this over in his mind. "While I'm getting 
organized. Well, that figures," he said, nodding to himself. 

Mrs. Dunstable glanced at the clock that sat on the mantel. 
"Gill it working temporarily till you begin to feel you've 
settled back in the groove on a permanent footing again," she 
said. "Emotionally. It might even be wise to take that inven- 
tory overtime they offered you. That would cover the added 
expense nicely." 

"That'd more than cover it," he said. 

"Well, tell them you'll take it, then," she said. "And, look 
don't let on about this. Do you hear?" 

He laughed indulgently at her. "Will you quit worrying 
about how solid I stand at the office? Steve or my boss, as 
you call him has a habit of letting his hair grow for weeks. 
I keep implying it's because he's so tight. When it's starting 
to curl around his ears, I say to him, 'Well, Steve, been around 
to the barbers lately getting estimates?' Does that sound like 
anything to worry about?" 

"Well, just don't let on to anybody there that you're tied 
up in knots," she said sharply. 

"Oh, for God's sake, stop worrying," Dunstable said. "You 
worry too much." 

206 



Block 

Mrs. Dunstable pointed at the clock. "It's twenty-two to 
nine," she said. "You'd better get a move on. You can still 
catch that quarter-to bus." 

Her husband went into the bedroom, pulling off his bath- 
robe. He had, as usual, shaved before breakfast, so it wasn't 
more than five minutes before he emerged in a blue pin-stripe 
suit, buttoning up his vest. 

"I think you're doing much the sensible thing," Mrs. Dun- 
stable said. 

Dunstable looped a watch chain through the middle button- 
hole of his vest as he hurried to the vestibule closet. He put 
his hat on and then pulled a topcoat from a hanger. "This 
way, he can analyze me while I'm treading water," he said. 

Mrs. Dunstable had produced a stamped-and-addressed en- 
velope, which she held out to him as she opened the front 
door. "You'll get a better chance to mail this than I will," she 
said. He took it as he was still hunching into his topcoat. 
"Don't forget it, now," she said as he went out the door and 
started down the front steps to the sidewalk. "Do you hear?" 

"Yes, yes," he answered, without turning. At the foot of 
the steps, he broke into a trot to race an approaching bus to 
the corner. His loose topcoat billowed out behind him. 

"Be sure to tell them you'll take that overtime!" she called 
after him. 

"All right, all right!" he called back 

He thrust the letter into a pocket as he sprinted down the 
sidewalk alongside the slowing bus. He drew abreast of it at 
the corner, where it stopped. Mrs. Dunstable watched him get 
on the bus and the bus door close behind him. Then she shut 
the door of the house, went back Into the kitchen, and, with 
noticeably more than her normal spirit, resumed her Inter- 
rupted housework. 



20J 



DOUBLE OR NOTHING 

WHEN MacNaughton's wife went up to Maine for two weeks 
to help her sister get settled with a newborn pair of twins, 
MacNaughton was left alone in New York. Wandering past 
Gramercy Park one evening, after a solitary dinner in a 
Twenty- third Street restaurant, he ran into a girl he'd known 
in an office where he'd worked before his marriage. Her name 
was Mapes. They chatted for a while, dropped into a neigh- 
borhood bar for a drink, had several, then went for a night- 
cap to Miss Mapes's apartment, where, one thing leading to 
another, MacNaughton kissed her. 

It left him with a nagging conscience. 

Instead of abating, in the days immediately f ollowing, Mac- 
Naughton's remorse grew worse. It was especially keen in the 
house, where his wife's blank pillow and empty bed, the 
framed family photographs on the mantel, the clock ticking 
into the silence drenched with absence filled him with a senti- 
mental regret. This state of mind continued until he found 
himself in an endless round of wishing he had the delinquent 
evening to live over again. 

So obsessed did he become with the idea of having another 
chance that he finally began to ask himself, Why not? Why 
couldn't he relive that evening? It should be perfectly simple. 
He would reproduce as far as possible the circumstances un- 
der which he had erred, lead up to the point where he had 
succumbed, and then not succumb. This, he felt, would be 
not a mere ritualistic repair of his spirit but an actual moral 
victory, since the same physical indulgence would be open to 
him in the second instance as in the first. 

208 



Double or Nothing 

The urge to make this token demonstration of fidelity 
prompted him at last to phone Miss Mapes and ask her for a 
date. 

"Why, I'd love to," she responded brightly. 

"How's tomorrow evening?" MacNaughton asked. "Maybe 
we can have dinner." 

"Tomorrow night is fine, and I'd love to have dinner," she 
said. 

"Well, swell," MacNaughton said. "Suppose I pick you up 
at seven." 

"Okie doke." 

They ate at Keen's Chop House, Miss Mapes looked her 
full twenty-eight years, but, dressed in a tan gabardine suit, 
canary-yellow blouse, and floppy brown felt hat, all of which 
advantageously set off her amber skin and brown eyes, she 
was attractive company. She chattered sociably over a dinner 
of mutton chops and a bottle of Burgundy. Racked overhead 
in the grottolike interior were the thousands of clay pipes 
familiar to patrons of Keen's, and once, glancing up at them, 
she said they looked like "stalactites running sideways." 

"That's pretty good," MacNaughton said. "That's one for 
the book." 

After a dessert of babas au rhum, MacNaughton ordered 
two ponies of Benedictine-and-brandy. 

"Plying me with liquor?" Miss Mapes asked amiably. 

When he finished his B.-and-B., MacNaughton set his glass 
down and said, "Let's go up to your apartment." 

She waved her still unfinished drink back and forth across 
her nostrils and closed her eyes. She sipped, assuming a grave 
expression. "I've been thinking, after the other night," she 
said. 

MacNaughton leaned back in his chair and looked away. 
Resistance was the last thing he had reckoned on. If she was 

209 



Double or Nothing 

going to play hard to get, he reflected, they were faced with 
a hopeless stalemate she withholding what he would wait 
forever for the opportunity to decline. Yet without the act of 
moral reclamation the evening would be a total waste. He 
turned over the check, which the waiter had left, reaching 
for his wallet with the other hand. "Getting strait-laced?" he 
murmured as he read the check, which was close to thirty 
dollars. The waiter trotted up in answer to his summons, and 
trotted off with the check and two twenties. 

MacNaughton looked across at Miss Mapes again. "Ah, 
come on, let's go up there," he said. 

She closed her eyes and shook her head with a playful smile. 

"What if I said it meant a lot to me?" he asked. 

She dug into her bag for a cigarette. "What if I said it 
meant a lot to me not to miss a picture that's running in the 
Village?" she asked. "The Third Man. Have you seen it?" 
MacNaughton shook his head. "Everybody says it's wonder- 
ful, and I missed it the first time around. It goes on at nine- 
eleven. I checked. Do you mind?" 

"Not at all," MacNaughton said. 

The picture absorbed them both. Halfway through it, Miss 
Mapes peeled off one glove and slipped her hand through 
MacNaughton's arm and down along his wrist. They sat hold- 
ing hands till the end of the movie. Then they walked to her 
place, which was only a few blocks away. In the street vesti- 
bule, she extended her hand. "Thanks for a marvelous dinner 
and one of the best movies I ever saw," she said. 

"Not at all," MacNaughton said, removing his hat and 
shaking her hand. "I enjoyed it, too." 

"Will I hear from you again?" she asked. 

MacNaughton had once seen a film in which Walter 
Pidgeon stalked Hitler at Berchtesgaden with a rifle, draw- 
ing a bead on der Fuhrer from a cliff overlooking the castle 

210 



Double or Nothing 

entrance. It was a mock assassination, modeled scrupu- 
lously on the stalking sport of the English countryside, in 
which the hunter does everything but actually fire at the 
game. To take the risk of prowling at Berchtesgaden with a 
loaded weapon, aiming, putting one's finger on the trigger, 
and then not pulling it that was the code as Pidgeon had 
cleaved to it. MacNaughton was familiar enough with terms 
like "guilt feeling" and "compulsive ritual." But he felt that 
the image of Walter Pidgeon, representing a thousand years 
of British decency as he sighted down the unfired rifle, was a 
perfect symbol of the sort of thing he was driving at himself. 

"Maybe you'll be free some evening within the next week?" 
he said. 

"Come on up," said Miss Mapes. 

He mounted the dark stairs behind her, swinging his hat in 
his hand. 

MacNaughton put his hat and coat on the seat of a tiny 
chair in the entrance hall as Miss Mapes switched on a light 
and closed the door. Her quarters consisted of a small living 
room, a Pullman kitchen, a bedroom, and a bath. She switched 
on a table lamp in the living room and disappeared into the 
bedroom, taking off her hat. "Fix us a drink," she said. "You 
know where everything is." 

MacNaughton mixed two bourbon-and-water highballs in 
the Pullman kitchen and carried them to the coffee table in 
front of Miss Mapes's studio couch. He wiped his wet fingers 
on a handkerchief he took from a rear trouser pocket and 
put back, still folded into a square. He sat down on the couch. 
He heard, somewhere in the building, the muffled sound of a 
door shutting. He glanced nervously at his wristwatch. It was 
eleven-thirty. 

Miss Mapes returned in a satin dressing gown of ice blue 
and joined him on the couch. She reached for her drink and 

211 



Double or Nothing 

settled back with it, lounging, partly turned toward him, with 
one shoulder against the back cushion of the couch. 

MacNaughton was aware of the intimate sibilance of negli- 
gee and of his senses drowning in perfume. " 'Stalactites run- 
ning sideways' is good," he said. "I suppose you're one of 
those people who can never remember which are stalactites 
and which are stalagmites?" 

"I've given up hope of keeping that straight," she said. 

"Well, here's a simple rule," he said. "Just remember that 
'stalactites' and 'ceiling' both have a V in them. That way, 
you can remember stalactites hang down from above." 

"But how will I remember the rule?" she asked. 

MacNaughton laughed, a soft laugh of private security. The 
whole thing had resolved itself into a kind of double or noth- 
ing, so to speak, and her apparent willingness to have him 
stay the night would leave him with a substantial moral bal- 
ance in his favor. Cautiously he tested his position. Running 
the ball of his right forefinger around the rim of his glass, he 
asked, with a tongue grown surprisingly dry, "What time is 
breakfast around here?" 

"Breakfast is any time before anybody has to get to work," 
she said. "But it won't be around here. Not with a Schrafft's 
nice and handy across the corner." 

MacNaughton finished his drink and waited a few minutes 
more. Then he stood up. "Look, I think I'd better be getting 
along," he said. 

But the retrieval of his self-respect brought about something 
for which MacNaughton had not bargained the loss to Miss 
Mapes of her own. "Well, will you make up your mind?" she 
said, her eyes brighter than he had yet seen them flash. "Is 
this a habit of yours flipping through samples till you find 
something that strikes you " 

"No, it's not that at all," MacNaughton said. 

Miss Mapes rose. "I'd like to know exactly who you're try- 



212 



Double or Nothing 

ing to make a fool of," she said, tucking the lapels of her 
dressing gown together in a gesture not without truculence. 

"Myself, I guess," he said. "I'll probably hate myself for 
this in the morning," he went on, attempting a humorous 
subtlety that he did not quite comprehend himself. 

"Just what the devil does that mean?" she asked. 

MacNaughton smiled and looked down at the rug. There 
was a moment of silence. "It's just that I think you were right 
earlier in the evening, back in the restaurant," he said. "People 
shouldn't lose their heads." 

"They shouldn't blow hot and cold, either," she answered. 

"You've a perfect right to call it that," he said fairly. He 
shook his head reflectively. "Sex," he said, as though the 
grievance and the weariness were equally his. 

It was MacNaughton's apologetic air rather than his philo- 
sophical one that somewhat mollified Miss Mapes. "Well, I 
won't keep you," she said presently. "I was going to ask you 
whether you'd care to go to a party Friday night. There'll be 
some of the old bunch from the office I thought you might 
like to see again." 

MacNaughton was momentarily clawed with panic. Had 
she been talking about him at the office where he had worked? 
It was time for plain words. "Look, I'm married, you know," 
he said. "I thought you knew I got married since I worked 
there." 

"Well!" she said. "Married!" She took a few steps to the 
window. There she turned around and, folding her arms, re- 
garded him. "Will you kindly tell me what this is all about, 
including the double-talk?" she said. 

MacNaughton drew a long breath and looked at the ceiling, 
as though mentally preparing the analysis that had been asked 
for. "I've seen you twice," he began. "The first time was ac- 
cidental, as you know, and a case where well, one thing led 
to another, as those things do. I was sorry for it.'* 

213 



Double or Nothing 

"I'll bet you were sorry, the time it took you to call me 
back,' 5 said Miss Mapes. 

"I'm coming to that," MacNaughton said. "You see, I 
wanted a chance to prove to myself I was of better stuff. And 
besides, I felt I owed it to my wife." 

"What about what you owed me?" she said, tucking shut 
the neck of her negligee with the same resentful gesture. 
"When are we coming to that?" 

MacNaughton was like a man who, thinking to pluck up a 
negligible strand of briar, finds he has hold of a mile of twist- 
ing root. 

"Do you know what I think 7 owe you?" she said, starting 
tow r ard him with deliberate steps. 

MacNaughton shot a glance at a vase on a nearby table. 
"Did you ever see a movie where Walter Pidgeon goes to 
Berchtesgaden to stalk Hitler?" he jabbered in a dry voice, 
backing toward the door. 

"I can think of a lot of things to do to you " Miss Mapes 
said, still advancing. 

"Think of my intentions!" MacNaughton protested. "I 
might as well have come up here to put you on a pedestal." 

"but they're all too good for you. Like hanging," she 
continued, ignoring his rebuttal as she had his parallel. 

"Man Hiint" MacNaughton said, feeling for the doorknob 
behind his back. "That was the name of the picture. George 
Sanders was in it." 

"I could call a cop to say you're annoying me, or the 
janitor to throw you out," Miss Mapes was saying. "I 
could -" 

MacNaughton opened the door, snatched his hat and coat 
off the chair, and scurried for the stairs. He picked his way 
down them gingerly but at high speed, hearing behind him 
the sound he had so diligently striven to expunge the thought 

214 



Journey to the Center of the Roo?7i 

of deserving the sound, shrill, formidable, and sustained, of 
a woman wronged. 



JOURNEY TO THE CENTER 
OF THE ROOM 

THERE WAS an earthquake in Los Angeles last July Fourth, 
the day I arrived there on vacation with my wife and brood. 
I don't imagine a series of tremors registering no higher than 
four or five points on the seismographic scale is "worth more 
than passing notice to Californians used to living along the 
great San Andreas fault, but for me, who had never been in 
anything like it before, the experience was a notably vivid 
one, complicated as it was by an additional, and rather special, 
set of circumstances. 

I was alone in my hotel room when the shocks began. My 
wife and children were all downstairs, splashing about in the 
pool in what seems, in retrospect, a sort of Babylonian fri- 
volity second only to the sybaritic ease in which I had just 
stretched out in my lounging robe to savor, in all frankness, 
their momentary absence. Judging from my Los Angeles 
Times of the next day, which placed the first of the temblors 
at five-thirty-six in the afternoon, it must have been shortly 
after five-thirty that I advanced toward the bed, freshly 
shaved and showered, and smacking my lips over an Old- 
Fashioned just sent up by room service. As I drew back the 
counterpane, I noticed, from a small metal plate riveted to 
the wall just above the pillow, that the bed was one of those 
deluxe affairs equipped with an electrically vibrating spring 
designed to give you a body massage fifteen minutes for a 

215 



Journey to the Center of the Room 

quarter. I slipped a twenty-five-cent piece into the meter and 
lay down with a grateful sigh. 

The bed quivered pleasurably beneath me, oscillating at just 
the right speed and frequency for the back rub that, now, 
made my bliss complete. The low hum that accompanied its 
chiropractic ministrations added to my peace. Lacing my 
hands under my head, I closed my eyes, the better to relish 
this brief respite from the strains of travel cum family, as- 
sorted occupational worries, and the barren vulgarity of a 
coin-operated civilization. 

This last could hardly be exaggerated. It had hounded me 
from coast to coast in the form of children, and even a wife, 
unremittingly bugging me for chicken feed to shove into this 
vending machine and that in return for I couldn't hope to 
name it all. Candy bars, soda pop, and chewing gum are only 
the beginning of what is now available in these contrivances. 
They yield pocket combs, packets of Kleenex, copies of the 
New Testament, nylon stockings, key chains, tubes of spot 
remover, ice-cream bars that leave spots, paperback novels 
apparently written by other machines in turn, nail scissors 
and, so help me, shrunken heads. My youngest son had got 
one of those from a novelty machine somewhere in the bowels 
of Grand Central while we were awaiting the first of the 
trains that were to take us across the country from New 
York. Yes, trains indeed. I am not blind to the merits of air 
travel how I can board a midmorning plane at Kennedy and 
be in Havana in time for lunch but I prefer railroad jour- 
neys. I like the hypnotically unwinding scenery, the meals in 
the diners, the placental snugness of the berths. 

It was of the gently rocking rhythms of Pullman sleepers 
that those of the Massage-O-Bed now in fact reminded me. I 
smiled dreamily, by turns closing my eyes to shut out all dis- 
tractions and opening them again to gaze at the ceiling. One 
crack running its length reminded me of the letter Z dear, in 

216 



Journey to the Center of the Room 

long sequences, to comic-strip cartoonists depicting slumber 
in their subjects. I found the fancy lazily amusing* I closed 
iny eyes and, with a little burrowing wriggle, hollowed out a 
slightly more comfortable position for myself upon the bed. 

It was then that I first sensed the action beneath me to have 
become noticeably more brisk, as of something shifted from 
low gear into a higher. "Say, these things are all right," I 
murmured to myself. I had scarcely more than made the ob- 
servation than the bed began to swing violently from side to 
side in a manner not to be construed as an intended gradua- 
tion of voluptuous pleasure. It also started to bounce up and 
down, and even to dance about the room, like a table at a 
seance. I sat bolt upright. Almost instantly all this extreme 
behavior subsided, and, after a somewhat puzzled sip of my 
cocktail, which I had beside me on the nightstand, I lay back 
again, shrugging to myself. The bed resumed its normal, 
soothing hum. I could feel the muscles of my back relaxing 
once more, my nerves unwind. 

This sensation of only briefly interrupted euphoria lasted 
for several minutes nine, to be exact. Because my Times 
goes on to report that it was precisely at five-forty-five that 
the second tremor occurred, far more severe than the first. 
To that I can attest. The licentious shimmy of my Massage- 
O-Bed escalated steeply. In a twinkling, it was pitching and 
heaving beneath me like a skiff in stormy waters, overturning 
me as I reached out for another drink and dumping me out 
onto the floor, where I landed with a thud on all fours, 

My first thought was that the bed had gone bananas. Not, 
that is, qua bed but as a piece of machinery got punitively 
out of hand, a piece of machinery balking at the perverted 
uses to which it was being put by a decadent civilization. I 
had been chosen, by blind chance or otherwise, as the sacri- 
ficial victim. I had blundered into one of those science 
fantasies in which man-made inventions go berserk, turn- 

217 



Journey to the Center of the Room 

ing on their creators and bringing them down in their 
Luciferian pride. That sort of thing. That such allegorical 
speculations had indeed shot into my head is, in any case, 
certainly proof of the wild bewilderment in which they were 
entertained. It should further be realized that in my lotus- 
eating trance I had really been half asleep. The obvious never 
entered my head, either for these reasons or possibly because 
I had struck it on a corner of the nightstand on my way out 
of beddy-bye and been rendered momentarily incapable of 
rational thought. 

The Old-Fashioned had fallen to the floor, too. I snatched 
up the empty glass and ran as fast as I could toward a closet, 
where I swiftly refilled it from a flask of bourbon dug from 
a suitcase. Warily skirting the bed, I scuttled past the foot 
end of it to an armchair that was as far from it as I could get. 
There I sat, staring at it. It hadn't itself overturned, but stood 
more or less in its place, its agitation back to normal. My own 
certainly exceeded it. The bed throbbed quietly on without 
its occupant. I watched and listened till the quarter-hour in- 
terval for which I had paid had run its course. After that it 
stopped, leaving the room in silence. Even then I sat there, 
nursing my drink and the goose egg on my head. 

Into this tableau my welcome children burst, swinging their 
towels and shouting, u Hey, Pop, did you feel that? We were 
in an earthquake!" 

Dazed inquiries revealed a chandelier to have been seen 
swaying in the lobby, a few pictures to have been knocked 
askew on their hooks. The water in the pool had sloshed 
about, like tea in a cup. A room-service waiter had trundled 
his cart into a wall. That was about the size of it, for all the 
Times* front-page streamer reading, "ROLLING QUAKES JAR 
SOUTHLAND," I had probably not been dumped out of bed by 
the temblor at all but fallen out in my frantic haste to get 
away from what I thought was a piece of machinery running 

218 



Journey to the Center of the Room 

amuck. That I had not understood what I was in the thick of 
is proof of both the vividness of the episode and the mixed-up 
state in which it was experienced. Further evidence, I must 
uneasily report, lies in the length of time it seems to be taking 
for this mixed-up condition to clear up, and my wits to return 
to normal. 

For there are aftereffects. For one thing, I detect in myself 
a tendency to post-hoc fallacies of a kind to which my think- 
ing has never been prone. An example of this was the eerie 
suspicion, entertained for just a split second when the truth 
did penetrate such head as I could boast of, that I had myself 
caused the earthquake by putting a quarter in the meter slot 
and starting that bed on its obscene little hula. Why not? We 
speak of the single pebble that precipitates a landslide. Why 
not of the last hemidemisemiquaver that, added to the pulsa- 
tions already bombarding earth, sends the poised rock shelf 
on its thundering course? 

But there are subtler and therefore more disturbing signs. 
I find I have difficulty in following any conversations but 
those of the most rudimentary order, trouble in grasping im- 
plications and allusions, even the familiar ones bandied about 
at the family board. I took it on the coco again on the trip 
home, my Burlington upper giving me a tumble-dry your 
coin Laundromat couldn't begin to deliver, let alone a Mas- 
sage-O-Bed, and this without so much as asking for a two-bit 
piece proof again of the strides the railroad people are 
making in their efforts to kill off the last remaining passenger 
travel simply by letting tracks and rolling stock both go to 
hell But this is not a berth trauma that Fm talking about 
now. No, Fm talking about symptoms left over from my 
Los Angeles adventure and that first appeared there, without 
a doubt. The scene in the hotel dining room after the earth- 
quake is typical, and will suffice to illustrate what I mean. 

2/5? 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

Perhaps if I relate it exactly as it happened you will see what 
it is I apparently missed, or get what I don't quite under- 
stand, in my current reduced comprehension. 

Everyone was still joking and laughing about the shakeup 
when we sat down to dinner. One of my children said, 
"What I don't get is why people live in a place like this 
when they know what may happen any time.'* 

"They become loyal to their part of the country, not just 
used to it," my wife said. "Chauvinistic, you might say. They 
become blindly attached to it, resentful of criticism. Even 
possessive. 35 

"It's their own fault," I said. 

I can't for the life of me figure out what they all roared 
about. Maybe it was the way I missed when I tried, just 
then, to drink from my Planter's Punch. The straw went 
down alongside the glass, on the outside of it, instead of 
into it. Which leads me to suspect there may very well have 
been still a third temblor, unrecorded by the Times, or even 
the seismograph, but not lost on your more sensitive type. 
Even one, if so it be, permanently addled. 



DIFFERENT CULTURAL LEVELS 
EAT HERE 

WHEN the counterman glanced up from the grill on which 
he was frying himself a hamburger and saw the two couples 
come in the door, he sized them up as people who had spent 
the evening at the theatre or the Horse Show or something 
like that, from their clothes. They were all about the same 
age in their early forties, he decided, as they sat down on 

2-20 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

stools at the counter. Except for them, the place was empty. 
At least, the front was. Al Spain, the proprietor, was sitting 
out in the kitchen working on a ledger. 

The counterman drew four glasses of water, stopping once 
to adjust the limp handkerchief around his neck. He had 
been whistling softly and without continuity when they 
entered, and he kept it up as he set the water glasses down. 

"Well, what's yours?" he asked, wiping his hands on his 
apron and beginning with the man on the end, 

"Hamburger." 

"Mit or mitout?" 

The man paused in the act of fishing a cigarette out of a 
package and glanced up. He was a rather good-looking fel- 
low with dark circles under his eyes that, together with the 
general aspect of his face, gave him a sort of charred look. 
"Mit," he said at length. 

The counterman moved down. "And yours?" he asked 
the woman who was next. 

'Til have a hamburger, too." 

"Mit or mitout?" 

The second woman, who had a gardenia pinned in her 
hair, leaned to her escort and started to whisper something 
about "a character," audibly, it happened, for the counter- 
man paused and turned to look at her. Her escort jogged 
her with the side of his knee, and then she noticed the count- 
erman watching her and stopped, smiling uneasily. The 
counterman looked at her a moment longer, then turned back 
to the other woman. "Pm sorry I didn't get that," he said. 
"Was that mit or mitout?" 

She coughed into her fist and moved her bag pointlessly 
on the counter. "Mit," she said. 

"That's two mits," the counterman said, and moved on 
down to the next one, the woman with the gardenia. "And 
yours?" 

22 1 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

She folded her fingers on the counter and leaned toward 
him. "And what would we come here for except a ham- 
burger?" She smiled sociably, showing a set of long, brilliant 
teeth. 

"Mit or mitout?" he asked flatly. 

She wriggled forward on the stool and smiled again. "May 
I ask a question? " 

"Sure." 

"Why do you say 4 mit or mitout'? 1 ' Her escort jogged 
her again with his knee, this time more sharply. 

The counterman turned around and picked up a lighted 
cigarette he had left lying on the ledge of the pastry case. 

He took a deep inhale, ground the butt out underfoot, and 
blew out the smoke. "To find out the customer's wish," he 
said. "And now, how did you want it?" 

"I think mitout," she said. "I like onions, but they don't 
like me." 

"And yours?" he asked the remaining man. 

"I'll have a hamburger, too," the man said. He fixed his 
eyes on a box of matches in his hands, as though steeling 
himself. 

"Mit or mitout?" 

The man fished studiously in the matchbox. "Mitout." 

The four watched the counterman in complete silence as 
he took the hamburger patties from a refrigerator and set 
them to frying on the grill. They all wanted coffee, and he 
served it now. After slicing open four buns, he returned to 
his own sandwich. He put the meat in a bun and folded it 
closed, the others watching him as though witnessing an 
act of legerdemain. Conscious of their collective gaze, he 
turned his head, and scattered their looks in various direc- 
tions. Just then the phone rang. The counterman set his 
sandwich down and walked past the four customers to 

222 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

answer it. He paused with his hand on the receiver a moment, 
finished chewing, swallowed, and picked up the phone. 

"Al V he announced, his elbows on the cigarette counter. 
"Oh, hello, Charlie," he said brightening, and straightened 
up. "How many? . . . Well, that's a little steep right now. 
I can let you have half of that, is all. . . . O.K., shoot. , . . 
That's nine mits and three mitouts, right? . . . Check. . . . 
That'll be O.K." He consulted the clock overhead. "Send 
the kid over then. So long." 

He hung up and was on his way back to the grill when 
he became aware that the woman with the gardenia was 
whispering to her escort again. He stopped, and stood in 
front of her with his hands on his hips. "I beg your pardon, 
but what was that remark, lady?" 

"Nothing." 

"You passed a remark about me, if I'm not mistaken. 
What was it?" 

"I just said you were wonderful." 

"I was what?" 

"Wonderful." 

"That's what I thought." He went back to the hamburgers, 
which needed attention. 

As he turned them in silence, the woman regarded him 
doubtfully. "What's the matter?" she asked at last, ignoring 
the nudging from her friends on either side. 

The counterman's attention remained stonily fixed on his 
work. 

"Is something wrong?" the woman asked. 

The counterman lowered the flame, stooping to check it, 
and straightened up. "Maybe," he said, not looking at her. 

She looked at her friends with a gesture of appeal. "But 
what?" 

"Maybe I'm sore." 

223 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

"What are you sore about?" the woman's escort asked. 
"She only said you were wonderful." 

"I know what that means In her book." 

"What?" 

The counterman turned around and faced them. "We have 
a woman comes in here," he said, "who everything's won- 
derful to, too. She's got a dog she clips. When she hits a cab 
driver without teeth who doesn't know any streets and you 
got to show him how to get to where you want to go, he's 
wonderful. Fellow with a cap with earlaps come in here with 
some kind of a bird in his pocket one night when she was 
here. He had a coat on but no shirt and he sung tunes. He 
was wonderful Everything is wonderful, till I can't stand 
to hear her talk to whoever she's with any more. This lady 
reminds me a lot of her. I got a picture of her all right going 
home and telling somebody I'm wonderful." 

"But by wonderful she means to pay you a " 

"I know what wonderful means. You don't have to tell me. 
Saloons full of old junk, they're wonderful, old guys that 
stick cigar butts in their pipe " 

"The lady didn't mean any harm." 

"Well . . ." 

There was a moment of silence, and the charred-looking 
man signaled the others to let well enough or bad enough, 
whichever it was alone, but the other man was impelled to 
complete the conciliation. "I see perfectly well what you 
mean," he said. "But she meant not all of us stand out with a 
sort of well, trademark." 

The counterman seemed to bristle. "Meaning what?" 

"Why, the way you say 'mit or mitout,' I guess," the man 
said, looking for confirmation to the woman, who nodded 
brightly. 

The counterman squinted at him. "What about it?" 

224 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

"Nothing, nothing at all I just say I suppose it's sort of 
your trademark." 

"Now, cut it out," the counterman said, taking a step 
closer. "Or you'll have a trademark. And when you get up 
tomorrow morning, you'll look a darn side more wonderful 
than anybody she ever saw." 

The charred-looking man brought his hand down on the 
counter. "Oh, for God's sake, let's cut this out! Let's eat if 
we're going, to eat, and get out of here." 

"That suits me, bud," said the counterman. 

The commotion brought Al Spain from the kitchen. "What 
seems to be the trouble?" he asked, stepping around to the 
customers' side of the counter. 

"She said I was wonderful," the counterman said, point- 
ing. "And I don't see that I have to take it from people just 
because they're customers, AL" 

"Maybe she didn't mean any harm by it," the proprietor 
said. 

"It's the way she said it. The way that type says it. I 
know. You know. We get 'em in here. You know what they 
think's wonderful, don't you?" 

"Well," Al said, scratching his head and looking at the 
floor. 

"Hack drivers that recite poems they wrote while they 
cart fares around, saloons full of old " 

"Oh Jesus, are we going through that again?" the charred- 
looking man broke in. He stood up. "Let's just go," he said 
to his friends. 

"We'll go into this quietly," Al said, and removed a tooth- 
pick from his mouth and dropped it on the floor. "We're 
intelligent human beings," he continued, with an edge of 
interrogation, looking at the others, who gave little nods of 
agreement. He sat down on one of the stools. "Now, the 
thing is this. This man is fine." He waved at the counterman, 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

who stood looking modestly down at the grill. "He's a great 
fellow. But he's sensitive. By that I mean he gets along fine 
with the public people who come in here from day to 
day, you understand. Has a pleasant way of passing the time 
of day, and a nice line of gab, but different cultural levels 
eat here, and he doesn't like people that he thinks they're 
coming in here with the idea they're slumming. Now don't 
get me wrong," he went on when the woman with the gar- 
denia started to say something. "I like all types of people and 
I'm tickled to death to have them come in here, you under- 
stand. I'm just saying that's his attitude. Some things set his 
back up, because he's like I say, sensitive." He crossed his 
legs. "Let's go into this thing like intelligent human beings a 
little farther. What prompted you to pass the remark 
namely, he's wonderful?" 
The charred-looking man groaned. "Oh, Christ, let's 

s et ~" 

"Shut up, Paul," the woman with the gardenia said. She 
returned her attention to the proprietor. "It was just oh, it 
all starts to sound so silly. I mean it was a perfectly insignifi- 
cant remark. It's the way he says 'mit or mitout.' " 

Al was silent a moment. "That's all?" he asked, regarding 
her curiously. 

"Yes." 

"It's just a habit of his. A way he's got." Al looked from 
her to the counterman and back again. 

"You see," she said, "it's making something out of nothing. 
It's the way he says it. It's so so offhand-like and well, 
the offhand way he evidently keeps saying it. It's so mar- 
velous." 

"I see. Well, it's just a sort of habit of his." Al was study- 
ing her with mounting interest. 

"Of course, we're sorry if we've offended him," said the 
woman's escort. 

226 



Different Cultural Levels Eat Here 

"Well let it go that way," the counterman said. 

"Fine! We'll say no more about it," Al said, gesturing 
co\ r ertly to the counterman to serve up the sandwiches. 
"Come again any time," he added, and went back to the 
kitchen. 

The two couples composed themselves and ate. The count- 
erman went and leaned on the cigarette case, over a news- 
paper. The door opened and a small man in a tight gray suit 
came in and sat down, pushed his hat back, drew a news- 
paper out of his pocket, and spread it on the counter. The 
counterman dropped his, drew a glass of water, and set it 
before the customer. 

"What'll it be?" 

"Two hamburgers." 

The two couples stopped eating and looked up, and there 
was a blank silence for a moment. Then they bent over their 
food, eating busily and stirring their coffee with an excessive 
clatter of spoons. Suddenly the clink of cutlery subsided 
and there was dead silence again. The counterman wiped his 
hands on his apron, turned, and walked to the refrigerator. 
He opened it, took out two patties, set them on the grill, and 
peeled off the paper on them. He sliced the buns and set them 
in readiness on a plate. Standing there waiting for the meat to 
fry, he cleared his throat and said, looking out the window at 
something in the street, "Onion with these?" 

"No. Plain," the customer said, without raising his head 
from the paper and turning a page. 

The two couples hurried through their sandwiches and 
coffee, crumpled their paper napkins, and rose together. One 
of the men paid, left a dollar tip on the counter, turned, 
and herded the others through the door, following them 
himself and closing the door rapidly and quietly. The count- 
erman shoved the cash register shut and went back to the 
grill without looking at them or glancing through the win- 

227 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

dow as they unlocked their car at the curb, got in, and drove 
off. He served the man his sandwiches. Then he came around 
the counter and sat on a stool with the paper. 

The door flew open and a big fellow in a bright checked 
shirt came in, grinning. "Hello, paesan!" the newcomer said. 
"Loafing as usual, eh?" 

The counterman jumped off the stool and held out his 
hand. "Louie! When did you get back?" 

"Yesterday." 

"For God's sake!" The counterman went back behind the 
counter. "Glad to see you." 

"Glad to see you, too, you lazy bastard." 

"How many, Louie?" 

"Fm starved. Fry me up three." 

"Mit or mitout?" 

"Mit!" 



THE MAN WHO READ WAUGH 

(After rereading a great 
deal of the same) 



WHEN the two British archaeologists excavating for relics in 
African Numania accidentally discovered gold, they were 
arrested for prospecting without a license and thrown into 
prison. They were found guilty as charged and sped back 
to the expedition site, this time bound in chains. 

"They're taking us back to the dig," said Miles Butter. 
"They figure it for a mine now that we've stumbled onto 
that bloody ore." 

"To be worked by convict labor," said Peter Paltry. They 

228 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

had both learnt to speak without moving their lips, in the 
manner of ventriloquists, since, like everyone else in Numania 
with gold fillings, they lived in constant fear of having their 
mouths confiscated by the state; impounding inlays being the 
most recent of the monetary reforms undertaken by a re- 
gime in chronic fiscal straits. 

Toil in the bonanza that the archaeologists had struck 
to which other convicts were now hustled from every cor- 
ner of the realm was as arduous as might have been ex- 
pected, but while delving for state metal they could at least 
keep an eye peeled for the spearheads and cooking pots for 
which they had originally been sent by the British Museum. 
One day Peter Paltry found a coin bearing the date 339 B.C. 

"A novelty shop gag no better than that can mean only 
one thing," he said. 

"Viscount Discount is in the country," Miles Butter said. 
"Having us on." 

They were in any case not surprised to have their shackles 
hammered off and the poultry lorry that doubled for a police 
van whisk them back to the capital, over streets through 
which a state procession had recently passed. The air still 
smelt of the bath salts which, in lieu of flowers strewn before 
the royal car, were poured by cheering throngs into the rain 
pools standing everywhere at that time of year. 

At the palace doors they were turned over to a series of 
eunuchs, who with their great paunches bumped them softly 
down a corridor to the throne room. There the ebony King 
Bismuth lolled on a lake of cushions, a red cummerbund 
circling his equatorial middle and a fez perched on his head. 
The fezzes, everywhere seen, were part of his program of 
Westernization; they had taken his fancy on a recent visit to 
New York during a Shriners convention. He had instituted 
numerous portfolios and periodically proclaimed cabinet cri- 
ses modeled on those of the European commonwealths. He 

229 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

awoke from a doze and said, "Discuss it with my Prime 
Minister." 

Viscount Discount grinned richly from a nearby divan, his 
cleaver face more reminiscent than ever of George Arliss. 
He was smoking a churchwarden, the stem of which at inter- 
vals he poked down to scratch the back of his throat, which 
tobacco irritated though soothing his nerves. 

"Hello, Paltry. Well, Butter. It's been a long time." 

"Hello, Vi," said Peter Paltry. "We lost track of you after 
Lord Wobleigh brought the action over the hotel stink. So 
this is where you've landed." 

"Wobleigh had no cause. It was in the lobby that I auto- 
graphed Lady Wobleigh's stomach, in perfectly plain view 
of everyone. You were there. Not that you came to my 
defense, either of you. . . . Well, it's down here that I've 
learnt the secret of political power today. It's electric power." 

He pressed a button and zephyrs from three air condition- 
ers gently swept the room. "Then we've vacuum cleaners, 
dishwashers, even a deep freeze, all thanks to me. Disposalls 
are promised for early delivery by a connection I have in the 
States. You see, London isn't all I electrified." Touching an- 
other button he directed their gaze to a cabinet of polished 
teak from which after a few moments of soft mechanical 
clatter issued the shattering strains of a Dixieland jazz band. 
"His Majesty has just discovered African rhythms," Viscount 
Discount said, "and has a standing order in at a New Or- 
leans record shop for all the latest releases. Paltry, that'll be 
one of your jobs, to keep him happy there. I remember the 
gramophone you used to keep us awake with at Balliol. As a 
prisoner of Numania your collection has been confiscated, 
but it's safe for you to catalogue into the Palace library." 

"Eddie Condon, Big Spiderbecke, all like that," said the 
monarch, snapping his fingers as he writhed with closed eyes 
among the pillows. "Who's on vibes?" 

2 3 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

"What he wants is tutoring in the fine points,' 1 said Dis- 
count. "The real from the fake, that sort of thing. Some 
treacle by a Lawrence Welk got mixed up in the shipment 
last week. After all, the rest of us have to listen to the 
damned stuff all day long, too." 

"And then all the pretty little statues," said the King, claw- 
ing a jujube from a packet concealed in the folds of his sash. 

"Oh, yes, the African primitives. He's on that kick, too. 
There's a steady stream of figurines from Bond Street and 
Madison Avenue. All that wants overseeing. And now fi- 
nally," Viscount Discount said with a gleam of genuine in- 
terest, "there's the cuisine here. It's worse than the truck 
we got at school. You're a gourmet. Repeat some of the 
miracles you performed on your little hot plate. You'll find 
all the herbs you need in the kitchen." 

"We are not jade sophisticates," said the King, "but we 
like peachy things. We have been civilized since my dynasty 
got conceived by God in 1066." 

Miles Butter broke in, impatient with the obvious. "How 
about you, Vi? Playing the power behind the throne is all 
very well, and this is a snug place to hide out from London 
subpoenas, but how do you keep yourself amused? You often 
threatened to slit your throat from boredom at BallioL" 

"That, my dear Butter, is where you come in." 

At the touch of a final button a bar reversed itself to dis- 
close a tier of congested bookshelves, 

"That's my side of the wall dividing Bismuth's digs from 
mine. All my old favorites are there I needn't *tell you what 
they are. I like reading aloud well enough, but have grown 
tired of the sound of my own voice. I remember now the 
cool beauty of yours, that mentholated baritone, reading 
your papers at the literary clubs. I see pleasant evenings 
stretching ahead of us, months, maybe even . . . Paltry, it's 
no good gaping out the window. The packet has sailed and 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

won't be back till autumn. You chaps cooperate and I'll see 
that your mouths aren't confiscated." 

Peter Paltry's gaze was fixed not on the distant seacoast 
but on the courtyard below. The poultry lorry was backed 
up to what by inference was the scullery door, and crates 
of fowl and other provisions were being discharged. He sud- 
denly realized how ravenous he was for something decent to 
eat himself. 

"I'm ready to hop to it, if you'll show me the kitchen," he 
said. "How would your Majesty like his chicken tonight?" 

"Dead," said the monarch after a moment of thought. 

"I'm going round the bend if we don't get out of here," 
Peter Paltry said. It was three months later. He stood now at 
the window of their room gazing through detention bars in 
what he took to be the general direction of London. "Think 
of it there right this minute," he continued wistfully. "Lady 
Wobleigh's picked up a rage from the States apparently 
called the two-party system. You look in on one at nine or 
so, then shove along to another around midnight. They're all 
doing it. I'd settle for one good bash right now." 

"Bash in the head is all we'll get if those natives don't 
simmer down," said Miles Butter. "It's those bloody African 
rhythms he's imported got the beggars all stirred up. Listen." 
From the surrounding saucer-edge of low hillsides could be 
heard the implacable throb of "Twelfth Street Rag" as played 
by the Tigertown Five, dealt at full volume from loud speak- 
ers stolen by night in an already portentous raid on Viscount 
Discount's warehouses. Firelight on dancing limbs could be 
imagined; the bodies of native women inscribed with graffiti 
rumored to be plagiarized from some American television 
entertainment known as Laugh-In. "If they ever decide to 
have themselves a little Bastille Day here, and knock over this 
ice cream villa, what's to prevent their taking it into their 

232 



The Man Who Read Waugh 

heads we're part of the Establishment? That packet's due 
back in a few days. When she sails again, I aim to be on her. 
Any ideas, Paltry? Otherwise cease and desist from barren 
nostalgias." 

"Yes, I've a plan," said Paltry, turning from the window. 
"You're closest to him. What's to prevent your reading him 
to sleep and then letting him have it with the nearest blunt 
object?" 

"What would we do with the body? Have you thought of 
that too?" 

"Yes. The Disposalls won't arrive until the packet does, 

but there's the deep freeze. Properly butchered and dressed 

?> 

"It's inventoried every Saturday. What if we haven't got 
away by then?" 

"The beauty of herb cooking is its ability to disguise things. 
Picks them up, too. Bismuth is by now a full-fledged gour- 
met and will eat anything. With his appetite a week should 
be enough. . . . Imagine Vi going in basil and thyme . . . 
And rosemary. That's for remembrance ... I mean to be 
on that boat enough so that I'd be willing to tuck in my 
share if need be. How about you?" 

Miles Butter awoke the next day to find it was Peter Paltry 
who had vanished, leaving no trace. Viscount Discount sum- 
moned him at the usual evening hour. "Story time," he 
greeted him with the excruciating smile. It is when our ac- 
quaintances behave at their worst that they make their most 
successful forays on our sympathy, for it is then that we are 
vouchsafed clearest glimpses of their cross. Discount's was 
plain: he was an extrovert who hated people. The gregarious 
misanthrope is, by one of nature's more mischievous convo- 
lutions, her commonest variety. Butter had more pressing 
matters on his mind, however. 



The Art of Self -dramatization; or, Forward fro?n Schrecklichkeh 

"What have you done with Peter Paltry?" he demanded. 

"Your quarters were bugged, of course, and all your con- 
versations recorded on those tapes. Would you like to hear 
a few played back on the Telefunken? No? All right." 

Discount strolled to the shelves and ran his finger along a 
row of titles. 

"Last night we finished Vile Bodies. Tonight I feel in the 
mood for Black Mischief.' 37 He handed the volume to Butter, 
who carried it to his accustomed chair, beside which at least 
a long whiskey-and-soda awaited him. "I'm naturally curious 
about one thing. I was pleased to hear you demur in the more 
dire aspect of Paltry's little plan, or at least not to hear you 
consent, and hoped it might be loyalty. That you might have 
come to enjoy these evenings together as much as I. Or is it 
just that you're a vegetarian now?" 

"It's nothing to do with that," said Butter, opening the 
book. Viscount Discount drew the draperies, lighting a lamp 
or two as he wandered back to his chair. "You and I are both 
veterans of the British table; we've both taken many a hard 
meal in Chelsea and Bloomsbury. But there are some things, 
my dear Vi, that not even an Englishman will eat." 



THE ART 
OF SELF-DRAMATIZATION; 

OR, 

FORWARD 
FROM SCHRECKLICHKEIT 

IF SELF-PITY is often a justifiable method of meeting reality, 
its twin, self-dramatization, is even more so, but in an entirely 

234 



The Art of Self-dramatization; or, Forward from Schrecklicbkeit 

different way. The two are fraternal but not identical twins. 
"We can be nothing without playing at being," says Sartre, 
in Being and Nothingness. In other words, we cannot not be 
enacting a role. A waiter, Sartre suggests, imagines himself 
as a waiter as he goes about waiting on tables and so on. 
I take this to mean that some measure of private theatrics is 
not only vindicated but indicated. The problem is one of 
style: acquitting ourselves like actors, not hams. 

I can see now that the whole course of a man's life may 
be viewed as the pursuit of that ideal. Among my own ear- 
liest memories are those of some fairly heady episodes in the 
bosom of a family unabashedly given to chewing the scen- 
ery. One in particular stands out. I am fifteen, and my father 
is pacing the period parlor, literally smiting his breast. Why? 
Because I have just been to the theatre, and that is condemned 
by our church as not just a frivolous pastime but a sin that 
puts one in danger of eternal hell-fire. Not even the climax 
of the play I have been to Ghosts, with Nazimova plowing 
the stage of the Erlanger Theatre, in Chicago, as Mrs. Alving 
while her son Oswald goes mad with congenital paresis 
can hold a candle to the scene being enacted in this humble 
home where drama is frowned upon. At the scene's peak, 
I leap to my feet and, stumbling blindly among the Cogswell 
chairs and beaded lamps myself, beat the sides of my head 
with my fists and cry, "Abstract me, silent ships!" 

This is "starting high," as professional theatre people say 
of plays that open at a pitch from which there is almost 
nowhere to go, but our Dutch families were not the only 
ones in that neighborhood with this tradition of hearthside 
Schrecklichkeit* A few years later, at about the age of eight- 
een, I became involved with a girl whose folks were also 
rigidly orthodox, only Jewish* and broth-er! between my 
being a goy and her being a PbHistijn y the contrapuntal wail- 



The Art of Self -dramatization; or, Forward from Schrecklichkeh 

ing could be heard anywhere in the half block of city street 
that separated our two houses. I myself, however, had moved 
away from that brand of histrionics. I was through with all 
that Schrecklichkeit, and beginning to play it cool. 

I lay on park grass with my head in the girl's lap, one 
night after our families had beaten us to emotional pulps, 
and, flinging an arm carelessly over my brow, again said, 
"Abstract me, silent ships." But with what a difference! I 
now murmured Baudelaire's apostrophe quietly, with a kind 
of rueful worldly wisdom that at the same time carefully 
f ocussed the drama on myself. It was I who was suffering 
a poetic miserable to whom families were so awful that the 
thought that he should start another of his own was one a 
girl must not for a moment entertain. She must put it com- 
pletely out of her head. Yet it was not many years later that 
I was using the same line, not to mention the same posture, 
to get a woman to marry me. 

We had had supper together on the beach at Lake Michi- 
gan, and were lying on the shore, I on my back and she 
propped, face down, on her elbows. She began to draw fig- 
ures in the sand with her finger. After a moment, she said, 
"I've been thinking maybe we should break this off." 

I did not cry out. I did not threaten to kill myself. I did 
not even protest. I simply laid my arm across my eyes and 
murmured the line from Baudelaire (in the excellent George 
Dillon translation) that has stood me in such good stead in so 
many crises in my personal relations, especially with women. 
The bit of pantomime that regularly accompanies its utter- 
ance is by now a perfectly timed and polished piece of fakery 
in which I only seem to be blotting from view a world no 
sensitive man can endure. In reality, it is a shield from under 
which to observe the reactions of the person whom I am 
trying to impress. 

236 



The Art of Self-dramatization; or, Forward from Schrecklichkeit 

Far trickier than the arts of gaining or keeping an advan- 
tage are those aimed at recovering a lost one say, a fall 
from domestic grace. Here the utmost in subtlety is required 
to disguise the manipulations one is up to to muffle, as it 
were, the rumble of scenery being changed. One summer 
evening, for example, when the marriage the suave waterside 
dramatics had secured for me was eight years old, I "dis- 
appeared" at a party with a girl known as Muffins Morrison, 
and was put so far in the doghouse that I didn't think my 
wife would ever let me out. I pulled every trick in the book, 
including the one of standing at the window, looking out, 
and saying, "I don't exactly like myself, you know." None 
of it did any good. There was only one thing I could think 
of. I would go into the hospital for some tests during my 
vacation. 

The chief problem of the adroit self-dramatizer one who 
plays it down and thereby excites additional admiration 
is how to let people know there is something to play down. 
How can you be a bit of all right if the essence of it is not 
worrying your friends with the fact that there is something 
to be a bit of all right about? 

The day before I was to go into the hospital for those 
tests, we had some friends in for drinks, and I solved the 
problem that time by leaving a list of dietary and other in- 
structions, which the doctor had given me, lying around 
where people would be sure to see it. When I was reasonably 
certain they had I had left it on the cocktail table in the 
middle of the room I suddenly pretended to ' deplore find- 
ing it there, and then pocketed it casually as I took orders 
for drinks. It all worked beautifully. A few days after I got 
out of the hospital, I ran into one of the cocktail guests (an 
English friend who is himself wonderfully adept at this whole 
business of throwing it all away), and he inquired after my 
health. "Had you in drydock for a bit, did they? How'd it 

137 



The Art of Self -dramatization; or, Forward from Schrecklichkeit 

go, old man?" he asked. The tests had all been negative, but 
I didn't want to talk about it. I let him know that not in 
so many words but by changing the subject and looking up 
the street in a manner calculated to foster further concern. 
Thus one man's progress in the art of self-enactment as 
son, suitor, friend, and husband. It is the role of parent, 
however, that is the most important and exacting, as well as 
the most difficult to sustain over the long haul, as the follow- 
ing incident may serve to show. 

Shortly after my son turned fifteen the same age I was 
when I was caught going to the theatre in Chicago the 
local police telephoned me late one evening to say that he 
had been picked up with two other boys and three girls on 
a wild joy ride around town in a car owned by the parents 
of one of the boys. The miscreants had told their elders that 
they were going to attend some discussion group at the 
Y.M.C.A. They had then proceeded to the home of that boy, 
where they had stealthily wheeled the car out of the garage 
"while his mother was asleep and his father was in Switzer- 
land," in the words of the official testimony and set off on 
their ill-fated spin. The boys, all under age, had taken turns 
at the wheel. 

My jaw was grim as I backed our own Ford Country 
Squire out of the garage and headed for the police station. 
I will not describe in detail the scene that took place there. 
Needless to say, it marked a return to Schrecklichkeit the 
collapse of all style, all the cool histrionics whose principles 
had been so carefully cultivated over the years. Not that I 
was any less conscious of my formal role as parent than the 
other fathers and mothers I found assembled when I arrived. 
Far from it! We all paced the station-house waiting room, 
declaiming, in competitively hysterical accents, our disap- 
pointment in our young and flinging our arms into the air for 

238 



The An of Self -dramatization; or, Forward from Scbrecklicbkeh 

their benefit. Where had we gone wrong? Was it our fault 
did we give them too much? Didn't they realize that taking 
the car was a theft, and driving it without a license also a 
criminal offense? And so on. 

I had not even begun to cool off when I got my prize into 
the station wagon, sometime after midnight, and made for 
home. "Lying, cheating, stealing, whoring, and hacking 
around after school! When will you grow up?" I demanded, 
jerking the lever for the directional lights down with a force 
that snapped it clean off the steering post, also damaging the 
mechanism inside so that the blinkers on the bumpers kept 
going after we had made our turn and could not be shut off. 
Passing motorists gesticulated obligingly as they went by. 
"What have I done wrong? I mean, I'd like to know. At 
Little League, you saluted the American flag with a dirty 
face. The only cultural thing Fve ever got you to was that 
production of The Playboy of the Western World, because 
you thought it was about hacking around. What have I done 
to deserve this?" 

He did not say. The boy's sangfroid perfectly discern- 
ible beneath the surface protestations of remorse did little 
to soothe my temper. The spectacle of his mother waiting 
at the window stung me to fresh outcries. At their conclu- 
sion, I dropped, exhausted, into a chair in the living room, 
letting my arms dangle over the sides. I sat breathing heavily 
in this position a minute or two before turning again to the 
boy, seeking some further expression of how sorry he felt, 
some healing reassurance. For a moment, I could not locate 
him. Then I saw him. He was lying prostrate on the couch, 
one arm flung across his brow, watching me from under the 
sleeve of his shirt. 



THE CHILDREN'S HOUR; OR, 
HOPSCOTCH AND SODA 

JUST as in a previous generation people were careful not to 
do or say anything "wicked" in front of the minister, so 
today one tries to avoid any sign of being "immature" in the 
presence of psychiatrists, those secular pastors with their gos- 
pel of Responsibility, their regular confessionals, and, to 
lick the metaphorical platter clean, their swelling parishes. 
Imagine my dismay, therefore, on hearing that a woman in 
whose earshot I had lost my temper at a recent party was a 
psychoanalyst, and, to make matters worse, a new neighbor 
of mine. The incident itself was unimportant: some small 
petulance of the sort to which we are all prone, in this case 
climaxing a political argument with a man whom I can't stand 
and whose wife to complete the sorry details had just 
beaten me at Scrabble. It was with a brackish enough mem- 
ory of the evening that I asked my wife at breakfast the next 
morning, a Sunday, "Who was that Valkyrie in the green 
dress who sat watching everyone with an aloof smile?," and 
heard her answer, "Frieda Bickerstaffe. I understand she's a 
psychoanalyst." 

"A psychoanalyst!" I said. "Why isn't a man told things 
like that?" 

"You were told," my wife answered, with a punitive little 
smile. "I told you. It shows again you never listen." 

"Bickerstaffe," I went on, pouring myself a fresh cup of 
black coffee. "That rings a bell." 

"I should hope so. I've told you everything about the Bick- 
erstaffes, but Fll run through it again, and this time listen. 

240 



The Children's Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda 

The BIckerstaffes are the people who just moved into the 
Martin place," my wife said, pointing toward a house that 
stands practically across the road from mine. "The man with 
the meerschaum pipe was Frieda's husband. The woman in 
the yellow shrug was her sister, Miss Froehlich, who's visit- 
ing them. The sisters are Viennese, and bright as dollars, both 
of them. I have no idea what Mr. Bickerstaffe is or does. 
Anyhow, Harriet Quayle told me Frieda's an analyst. Have 
you got it all straight now? Because we must have them over 
soon." 

"How about this afternoon? 77 I said, eager to lose no time 
recovering face with a woman who was not only a head- 
shrinker but would have me under year-round scrutiny over 
the front hedge. 

"The Joplins are coming for drinks," my wife reminded 
me. 

"Let's introduce them to the Joplins, 7 ' I said 'The Bicker- 
staffes are new in the community. They would like to meet 
people. Where's your group spirit?" 

I went to the phone and called our new neighbors myself. 
Mrs. Bickerstaffe answered. "Zat would be fine," she said 
rather dubiously, in reply to my invitation to pop over around 
five. "But my sister Miss Froehlich, you know is staying 
wiz us " 

"Bring her along," I boomed gregariously Into the trans- 
mitter. 

"How nice of you. But we have zis child " 

"Fve got four. Come along all of you. The more the mer- 
rier," I said, breathing an air of psychic health and great bon- 
homie. 

"All right," she said at last. "Well bring Herman." 

I was delighted, and hoped that Herman and all my own 
children would behave abominably, so that I might have as 

241 



The Children^ Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda 

much credit as possible for remaining equable. That was my 
plan in a nutshell: to keep my shirt on, no matter what. 

The early-bird and bibulous Joplins were comfortably in- 
stalled with Old-Fashioneds when the Bickerstaffes trooped 
in. Miss Froehlich wasn't with them she was writing letters 
and would come along later but Herman was, and he 
turned out to be all I could have wished. He disrupted the 
very introductions by bolting into the dining room to greet 
my oncoming brood and, in doing so, tracking mud across 
the parlor floor; it had been raining, and his rubbers, which 
he had neglected to remove, were luscious. 

"Think nothing of it," I said, grinning beside my stony- 
faced wife. "Good for the rug. Sit you down, all." 

That was the keynote of the afternoon. There is no need 
to relate in detail the successive incidents. The Bickerstaffes 
had occasion to give Herman what-for several times, as my 
wife did to one or another of our four. Pressure was finally 
brought to shoo them all downstairs to the playroom, but I 
resisted this arrangement as one that would deprive me of 
my challenge. What apter test of one's mettle is there than 
his handling of the children's hour? "Now, now, let's not let 
them get on our nerves so soon" I chided good-humoredly. 

But in deference to lower thresholds of impatience than 
mine I did settle the youngsters on the dining-room floor 
with magazines and scissors, suggesting that they cut out 
pictures. "Show your things and trade them around," I said, 
"and play nice in other ways." 

I returned to my guests in the living room, where I stood 
at the mantel packing shag into a briar with that outward 
poise that comes from inner balance, as the cocktail talk 
rolled along to this and that. It centered presently on amusing 
delays people had experienced on railroads. Hal Bickerstaffe 
told of a trip he had once made to Chicago, in the course of 

242 



The Children's Hour; or. Hopscotch and Soda 

which the train had been marooned in a blizzard for nine 
hours and he had frozen all night in an upper. Herman left 
the dining room and nipped in to his mother to inquire what 
the prospects were for something to eat. 

"Lieber Gott, Herman!" she said, rolling an eye at her 
husband. 

I beamed down at the scene. 

"We were just talking about Chicago, Herman," I said, 
to demonstrate how the two generations could be integrated 
into a conversation, given a little tact and understanding on 
the part of the so-called adults. "Know how to spell 'Chi- 
cago,' fellow? Chicken in the car and the car can't go 
Chi-ca-go." 

My peers were wilting nicely. A harried look passed be- 
tween the Joplins. I was interested to see that Frieda Bicker- 
staffe (or Dr, BickerstafFe, or whatever she called herself) 
gave evidence of being worn thinnest of all by the brouhaha. 
She had seemed, on arrival, even more statuesquely handsome 
than I had remembered her from the night before, but now 
her shoulders drooped with an end-of-the-day fatigue, and 
the aloof smile I'd recalled as characteristic was gone. I won- 
dered whether she was an actual Freudian or a proponent of 
some other of the schools of psychiatry. Not that it made 
any difference; I must certainly have redeemed myself in her 
eyes by now, I thought as I chewed my pipe and was mature, 
or stood at the fireplace with my feet planted apart in a 
manner typifying fibre. Still, it seemed to me I could do with 
some final chance to prove my stability, some particular dra- 
matic incident to cap the impression. 

This was vouchsafed me. 

"The sun's out let's all go sit on the terrace," I said, 
"and I'll fix the kids some lemonade." My own children had 
begun to propagandize for refreshments, and this offer was 
greeted with lusty cries of appreciation. We reorganized our- 



The Children's Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda 

selves In the pleasant open air, and then I slipped back into 
the kitchen to make good my promise to the small fry. 

"I wouldn't mind these clammy summers if we only got a 
proper spring," I chatted, calling through two open door- 
ways from the sink, where I was conjuring the lemonade 
from that frozen preparation to which water is added. "The 
thermal belts are changing. Oh, well." 

The lemonade, with cookies, was soon in young hands, 
and fresh cocktails were in old. The elders broke up, con- 
versationally, into pairs. I was sitting next to Frieda Bicker- 
staffe, and exchanging comments with her about American 
educational methods as against European, when there was a 
mishap. Two of my kids and Herman, scuffling about nearby 
on the lawn, stumbled against the table on which I had set 
the pitcher of lemonade and spilled the whole works, ice 
cubes and all, into my lap. "The drinks are on me,'* I said 
with a laugh, and rose to mop myself. 

It appeared to me that that ought to do it get me in the 
clear. How could you be more mature than this? I rested my 
case. 

Frieda Bickerstaffe was dressing Herman down in the shrill 
tones of one who has cracked. My wife was diplomatically 
trying to acknowledge our share in the blame. Hal Bicker- 
staffe gabbled apology and reprimand in the appropriate di- 
rections as he passed me dry handkerchiefs from his own 
person and others'. I wiped at my sopping flanks and chaf- 
fered T "Now, let's not give the poor creatures Sunday-after- 
noon syndrome before they're out of knee pants." And when 
the hubbub had abated, I went on, "Wouldn't you say that 
the family constellation, as I believe you call it in your pro- 
fession, Frieda wouldn't you say that's the root of most 
adult difficulties? I mean, don't you find your patients are 
more apt to remember what their families did to them than 
what they did for them?" 

244 



The Children's Hour; or, Hopscotch and Soda 

"My what?" she asked. 

"Your patients." 

"You must have me confused wlz my sister/* Frieda said. 
"It's she who's the psychoanalyst. I'm just a housewife wizout 
enough time to read. Elsa should be along any minute," she 
added, glancing at her wristwatch. 

"I see." I wiped myself a while longer. Then I said, "Ex- 
cuse me while I put on some dry pants." 

In a smoldering rage, I went into the bedroom and changed. 
When I had finished, I marched into the kitchen, where I 
found my wife slicing cheese. 

"Welir I said. "If you don't take the cake!" 

"What now?" she asked. 

"Telling me she's a psychoanalyst Mrs. Bindlestiff, or 
whatever her name is," I snarled in a low voice, jerking my 
head toward the terrace. "You've got a nerve complaining I 
never listen or get things right. What the hell kind of in- 
formation do you call that?" 

"I only told you what Harriet Quayle said. So she got it 
twisted. So what? Why make all this of it?" 

The sudden realization of the afternoon of wasted quality, 
sustained with such natural ease and eifortless grace, was too 
much to ask me to take in stride, let alone elucidate. "Give 
me that knife," I said. "Suppose you try civilizing those brats 
for a change. Listen to them out there. They ought to have 
their heads knocked together." 

"I simply don't understand you," she said. "One minute 
you're the soul of " 

"Give me that knife!" I repeated, reaching to take it from 
her. 

Just then, a female voice behind me sang, "Hello, hello!" 
Pausing in the act of trying to wrest the knife from my wife's 
upheld hand, I looked over my shoulder and saw the beaming 
face of Miss Froehlich pressed against the screen door, peering 

245 



The Irony of It All 

in. "Sorry I couldn't come any sooner zan zis, but it's so nice 
of you to ask me." She paused herself, to take in the tableau 
in which my wife and I stood momentarily frozen. "Is there 
anysink I can do?" 

The rest of the afternoon passed without event, except for 
my overhearing the syllables "essive" cross Miss Froehlich's 
lips as she sat in murmured conversation with someone, I 
don't even remember who. I wondered what the word might 
be of which they formed the suffix. Many possibilities come 
to mind. She may have been commenting on how oppressive 
the heat had been lately. Or she may have been using, in some 
connection or other, the term "regressive" or "aggressive" or 
"obsessive," or another of the clinical sibilants. I have no idea 
which of these it could have been, or whether it was some- 
thing else altogether, and frankly I don't give a damn. 



THE IRONY OF IT ALL 

THIS WAS a dinner party I faced with more than the usual 
reluctance. Besides girding my loins for the five or six hours 
of continuous conversation to which custom maniacally com- 
mits us, I had to steel myself to spend them with a man I 
couldn't abide the host. (Why our two households had 
kept exchanging invitations is one of the mysteries of a social 
system administered by women, and I do not feel equipped 
to discuss it.) An added hazard in all my meetings with this 
egg had arisen from his being an author, and one who could 
buy and sell me and everybody I know. I bristle each time I 
see, on my way to my office job in the city, a fellow-com- 
muter reading one of his novels. 

246 



The Irony of It All 

They are no good, those books. But they sell. They have 
the disproportionate quantities of seaminess that gain authors 
reputations as realists, and their style is no tax on the brain. 
They abound in lines like "Behind him he could hear Dum- 
browski's heavy breathing" and "With a bellow of mingled 
rage and pain he came at him." There are more descriptive 
stencils like "a thickset man with beetling brows" and "a 
small birdlike woman' 7 than you can shake a stick at, and the 
frequency of "You mean ?" in his dialogue indicates that 
he is no pathfinder there, either. Triter still is the lyric strain 
with which the brutal realism is relieved, being marked by 
an almost unlimited use of the atmospheric "somewhere": 
"Somewhere a bird sang," "Somewhere a woman's laughter 
broke the stillness of the night," and so on. Complexity of 
characterization is achieved by the sedulous repetition of "part 
of him." "Part of him wanted to so-and-so, while another part 
of him wanted to such-and-such." It goes without saying that 
the "as if in a dream" locution appears on every fourth page. 
As befits the work of a fearless realist, the aspect of life most 
abundantly dealt with is sex. 

It was this particular exaggeration I was reflecting on as 
my wife and I drove over to the party at the home of the 
man in question, whom I will call Dumbrowski because it's 
so typical of the names he gives his characters. I groped for 
some thought on which to impale this latter-day obsession 
with the frequent and physical depiction of passion an 
ironic phrase for it, which I felt to be teasing the edge of my 
mind if not the very tip of my tongue. "Why does he lay 
sex on so thick?" I finally asked my wife, who was driving 
the car. I thought a little conversation on the subject might 
help me snare that elusive conceit. "He and realists of that 
ilk? They have people in and out of bed like seals in and out 
of water affairs right and left, sex day and night. Why is 
that?" 

24J 



The Irony of It All 

"Maybe they just don't know the facts of life," she said. 

I lapsed into silence, staring ahead through the windshield. 
We must have gone a mile or more before I turned irritably 
to her and said, "What the hell are we going there for? You 
don't like him any better than I do." 

She shrugged. "They owed us an invitation." 

We slowed and entered the front gate of the house in which 
we were to spend the evening. I climbed out of the car and 
made my way unwillingly up the gravel drive to the door. 

The house was jammed with guests. Dumbrowski, how- 
ever, stood out in his pink shirt and black tie, which, in turn, 
stood out under his light-gray cashmere jacket. He was too 
tall and too broad-shouldered, I noted, and his hair needed 
some heavy pruning, like his books. I managed to steer 
clear of him during the cocktail period and even through 
dinner, for which the more than thirty guests were distributed 
among several small tables. After dinner, though, the whole 
party formed a unified group to which mine host held forth 
in typical fashion by which I mean his way of aiming the 
stem of his pipe at you when making a point, or (another 
favorite piece of business) swirling his brandy around in a 
snifter. A man has a perfect right to gaze into a brandy inhaler 
and swirl the contents around when making an observation, 
but in that case he ought to get off something better than 
"I'm sure our ways must seem as odd to them as theirs do to 
us," and "The burdens of the Presidency are enormous." 

I had eaten and drunk heavily, as an alternative to hanging 
myself from the nearest chandelier, and as a result had the 
hiccups so badly that for a while I sounded like an outboard 
motor. Luckily, I found a chair in a remote corner of the 
living room, and went for the most part unnoticed. At about 
half past ten, some cretin, a woman who had just moved to 
Westport and was socially on the make, asked Dumbrowski 

248 



The Irony of It All 

to read us a chapter of his work in progress. He modestly re- 
fused, and, what with one thing and another, was soon in- 
stalled with a sheaf of manuscript in his hand and a circle of 
prisoners around him. 

This was a story, he told us as he stoked his pipe prepara- 
tory to the reading, about a burnt-out prizefighter who signs 
for one last fight in an attempt to get enough money to marry 
a woman he is in love with. He is not only badly beaten but 
gravely injured, and is taken to the hospital immediately fol- 
lowing the "bout, 

" 'Stramaglia knew that he lay dying,' " Dumbrowski read, 
in a voice that was low and modulated, yet vibrant with re- 
spect for the material. " 'Part of him wanted to die.' " See? 
" Tart of him wanted desperately to live. A great weariness 
assailed him. Somewhere a cart rattled in the corridor, Then 
he was dimly aware that the door of his room had opened 
and someone was sitting in the chair beside his bed. He knew 
without opening his eyes that it was Constanza.' " 

A hush fell across the room as, in a pregnant pause of more 
than usual duration, Dumbrowski took a last suck on his pipe 
before setting it down in an ashtray at his elbow. There was 
no denying the emotion generated among his listeners a 
tension that made even me momentarily leave off tallying the 
cliches as they fell from his lips. He continued reading: 
" ' "Constanza, I have a request to make that may seem 
strange to you," Stramaglia whispered thickly, "but would 
you get me my gloves? I'd like to go out with them on." ' " 

A snicker escaped me at the same time that a sob caught in 
my throat. In addition, I wasn't quite over the hiccups, so the 
resulting moment was one of great confusion indeed. Every- 
one turned to look at me. Dumbrowski himself raised his head 
and glanced in my direction, but he resumed reading almost 
immediately, in an effort to recover what he could of the 
spell he had been weaving. Fortunately, he was near the end 



The Irony of It All 

of the chapter, or of the section he had chosen to read, and 
presently he was putting his manuscript aside, to a ripple of 
compliments and hand clapping. He acknowledged the ap- 
plause smilingly, then rose with a brisk "Well so!" and set to 
work freshening up people's drinks. 

I knew that I had got his goat. And I knew, as I'm sure he 
did, too, that the undercurrent of animosity between us, so 
long concealed, must break through into open hostility very 
soon. Dumbrowski, at any rate, took his revenge in short 
order. A girl of about twenty-five launched a long and de- 
tailed account of the trouble she was having finding a job in 
New York. In the course of it, she asked three or four of the 
men present, including me, if they couldn't help. I promised 
to see if there were any openings in my office. "Oh, open- 
ings!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "I'm talking 
about somebody just plain getting me in." 

Here Dumbrowski slipped in his stiletto. "You mustn't 
give the poor chap such a time, Nancy," he said. "He doesn't 
have any of the kind of influence you're talking about the 
kind that cuts corners for people. He only just works there 
himself." 

I spent the remainder of the evening spoiling for a fight. I 
prowled the living room with highball after highball, glaring 
either at Dumbrowski, who went from strength to strength 
with one group after another, or at my wife, whom I saw in 
gay communion with a succession of attentive males. "It's no 
wonder," I snapped elliptically from behind her as she sat on 
a sofa waiting for an admirer to trot back with a drink for 
her. "Next time you go out with me, you'll wear a dress with 
a top. I mean that." Before she could turn and ask for an 
exegesis, I was making for a piano, at which I sat for some 
time picking out chords of an angry and atonal nature. I eased 
my feelings by reviewing some of my adversary's more 
blatant shortcomings as an artist, mentally repeating a few 

250 



The Irony of It All 

of his characteristic effects. "Behind him he could hear Dum- 
browski's heavy breathing," I reiterated amusedly to myself, 
and "You mean ?" 

It was toward midnight, when the party was boiling noisily 
through its climax, that he gave me what I took to be casits 
belli. He was standing nearby with a dapper but gloomy- 
looking man of about forty, whose name I hadn't caught. As 
I watched them, it was borne in on me that they w r ere discuss- 
ing my wife, who was chattering away to several people in 
the vicinity. The two men nodded and smiled appreciatively. 
Then Dumbrow r ski said something that I got only imperfectly 
but that under the din, at least seemed to have something 
to do with someone's being "picked up without any trouble." 

I took a long pull on my drink, rose from the piano bench, 
and strode over, just as the other man made off. "All right, 
Dumbrowski," I said. "I heard that." 

"Heard what?" he asked. 

"Whatever you said. Shall we step outside?" 

He glanced into my glass. "Don't you think you've had 
enough, old boy?" he asked. 

"More than enough. Just slip out through the terrace, shall 
we?" I suggested, nodding toward a pair of French doors, 
closed against the autumn night. 

"I'm sure I don't know what the devil you're talking 
about." 

"I think you know what I'm talking about, Dumbrowski," 
I said, fixing him with narrowed eyes. 

He paused and took me in speculatively. "You hate my 
guts, don't you?" he said at last, in low tones. 

"I would if you had any. You get 'em, I'll hate 'em." 

"Why, you ! " His fists opened and shut at his sides. "I've 
got guests to think about, but you come back here any time 
you wish, and by God " 

"How's tomorrow morning?" 

257 



The Irony of It All 

"That's fine with me." 

"I'll be here with bells on," I said. "That's a promise." 

I awoke the next morning, Sunday, at eleven o'clock. My 
lead felt swollen to twice its size, and as though it had been 
illed with concrete. When I tried to move it, the room swam 
n a steady circle from floor to ceiling, like the picture on a 
:elevision set when it is in need of vertical tuning. The con- 
dition cleared up after a bit, and I got up and doused myself 
*vith cold water, dressed, and went down to the kitchen, 
tvhere my wife was sitting over a cup of coffee and the 
Thnes. 

"Good morning," I said, drawing on a tweed jacket, for 
die day was quite nippy. 

"What's morning about it?" 

I helped myself to a glass of cold orange juice from a 
pitcher. I drank it standing up, aware of her watching me. 
i4 What in heaven's name happened last night?" she asked. (I 
had stalked out of the party after my skirmish, pausing only 
long enough to make sure she had transportation home, and 
gone straight to bed on getting there myself, so these were 
our first words since then.) "What was that all about between 
) r ou and Frank?" 

"You'd be surprised," I answered acidly, and marched out 
of the house, making directly for the car, which I had left 
parked in the driveway, the keys in it. 

I sat inside the car reviewing the hazards of living in a 
society as complex as ours. The memory of my grievances 
sent my temper flaring again. Should I keep my date with 
Dumbrowski? Honor or at least self-respect demanded 
that I do. There seemed no alternative. It was as though we 
had parted with the understanding "Fists, at dawn." 

It was closer to noon when I reached the Dumbrowskis'. 
Nobody w r as stirring except the maid, who frowned uncer- 

252 



The Irony of It All 

tainly when, standing on the porch with my hands in my coat 
pockets, I asked for the master. She glanced over her shoulder 
up the vestibule stairway. "Are you expected?" she asked. 

I told her that I was. As we talked, I debated with myself 
whether to leave a message that I had called, and go. Then a 
second-story window slid open and Dumbrowski's head ap- 
peared between the curtains, his face mangled with sleep, and 
an ice bag on his tousled hair. "Oh that," he said, remem- 
bering. He squinted down through the bright fall sunshine 
and, with the hand not concerned with steadying the ice bag, 
gathered the lapels of a bathrobe over his chest. 

"I can come back later," I said, squinting back up at him, 
"if now isn't convenient." 

"I'll be down." His head withdrew, and the window slid 
shut. 

I sat on the porch steps to wait, declining the maid's invita- 
tion to wait inside. I picked up a handful of gravel from the 
drive and flicked the stones away one by one with my thumb. 
After about five minutes, the door behind me opened and 
Durnbrowski emerged, clad in a black turtleneck sweater and 
denim slacks. He must have had quite a night (my wife 
hadn't got home till two o'clock, I learned later), because he 
looked like something the cat dragged in. I sympathetically 
murmured something to that effect as I rose to greet him, 
and repeated my offer to let this go till some other time. 
"No, let's get it over with," he said doggedly. 

"Right," I said, removing my coat as I followed him down 
the steps to the yard. 

We squared away on a width of lawn that was concealed 
from the house by a group of birches, from which the ground 
we stood on fell away to a small pond in which the Dum- 
browskis had once kept goldfish. We circled one another for 
a minute or two, our guards up, edging about for the ad- 



The Irony of It All 

vantage. There was no doubt what that consisted in here; it 
consisted in remaining above one's opponent. 

"This has been brewing for a long time," I observed as we 
sparred. 

"It was bound to come to a head," Dumbrowski agreed. He 
cocked his forward arm the right a bit, and I stiffened 
my own guard, at the same time thrusting out my chest to 
give that impression of pectoral strength that is always sug- 
gested in photographs of prizefighters. 

"We don't cotton to one another, you and I," I went on. 
"And there you have it." 

"You don't like my stuff. I know that." 

"It's not my dish of tea." 

"I hate that expression," Dumbrowski replied with unex- 
pected violence. "Why don't you come right out and say 
what you think? Not that I don't know what your dish of 
tea is. That English lot! Twitches and nuances!" Here he 
reeled off a string of contemporary British novelists who did, 
with uncanny accuracy, reflect my private reading tastes. 
"Lint pickers!" he exclaimed in a burst of spirit. "All that 
eyebrow combing! " 

I recognized well enough the animus of the popular artist 
whom critical approval has bypassed. He was one of those 
authors read by hundreds of thousands but of whom no one 
has ever heard. They have no reputation; they are merely 
household words. Oh, I knew what was in Dumbrowski's 
craw all right. But that did not spare me the comparable sting 
of having my gout as a reader under attack. Now I felt the 
urgent need to strike a blow. 

"It's better than that burly realism," I retorted hotly. "And 
all that sex. Want to know why you chaps slather it on? You 
don't know the facts of life." 

He paused long enough for the exquisite irony of this to 
sink in I could sense the shaft going home then he low- 

254 



The Irony of It All 

ered his head and came at me with a bellow of mingled rage 
and pain. 

I met his charge by adroitly stepping aside, more or less 
executing what is known in bullfighting as, I believe, a 
veronica. He stumbled in his plunge and lost his balance, 
sprawling headlong among the birches. He got to his feet and 
came for me again. I lunged forward to meet him, and we 
came together, our arms going like flails. It was amazing how r 
few blows found their mark practically none at all. This 
time, I tripped on a rock and stumbled against him, and, in- 
terlocked, we danced down the incline toward the goldfish 
pond. We fetched up short of it only because, at the con- 
clusion of our career down the grass, we clumsily pulled each 
other down in a jumble of arms and legs. This had the effect 
of converting the encounter into a wrestling match, and by 
an accident of the terrain in my favor I landed on top, but so 
near the water that any attempt to alter our positions might 
have meant disaster for both of us. So I sat there on Dum- 
browski's chest for a bit. 

"This will teach you to speak lightly of a lady's name," I 
panted. 

"Ridiculous." He brought the word out between gasps of 
his own. "Never understood this fussing over a compli- 
ment paid a woman." 

"Compliment?" 

He nodded. "Only told Feversham be sure go talk to her 
if he wanted picking up." 

"You mean ?" I said. 

He nodded again. "Feversham was depressed. So I told him 
go talk to her. She picks you right up. Always thought so. 
Great fun. At least appreciate your taste in that? 

I climbed off of him. I turned away and dropped leadenly 
to the grass in a sitting position. I knew well enough now 
what was happening, and I offered no resistance. Behind me 

255 



The Irony of It All 

I could hear Dumbrowski's heavy breathing. Somewhere a 
car backfired, shattering the morning stillness. As if in a 
dream, I gave my head a shake and said, "It was all a ghastly 
mistake." 

"I'll accept that." 

I could hear him getting to his feet now. When he spanked 
the dirt from his clothes, it was as if the blows stung my 
cheeks. But when I turned to look up at him over my 
shoulder, his face was twisted in a grin of forgiving triumph. 
Dumbrowski knew that he had won; in his eyes there was 
that quiet knowledge. There is no need to relate the rest in 
detail: how part of me hated him while more of me hated 
myself; how I rose, as if in a trance, to dust off my own 
clothes; and how, at last, Dumbrowski steered me up the 
lawn to the house and even into it, my arm in his viselike 
grip. "Wash up in there," he said, not unkindly. When I 
emerged from the bathroom he had indicated, he said, "Now 
come into the kitchen for some coffee." 

We sat hunched over our cups of strong black coffee, our 
arms along the table, facing each other in a new understand- 
ing that needed no words. Each treasured within him the 
satisfaction of having stood up to the other, yet respected the 
other for having done the same. Somewhere a clock struck 

one and I told Dumbrowski that I had to go. I rose and, 
shaking his hand, took my leave. 

As I strode up the walk to my car, I knew a strange peace 

the peace of a man who has faced up to what courage and 
chivalry demanded, and not flinched. I knew it was the same 
with Dumbrowski. We would never speak of this again, yet 
we were strangely cleansed. Part of me regretted the incident 

always would but another, deeper part of me would al- 
ways prize it for the challenge that had come out of it ... 
a challenge met. Somewhere a duck quacked. The air was 



Laughter in the Basement 

like wine. It was with a high heart that I sprang into my car 
and drove home to the woman I loved. 



LAUGHTER IN THE BASEMENT 

"SHE HAS NO MIND, merely a mind of her own" is something 
I recently said in open conversation, with less profit than I 
had anticipated. When I say anticipated, I mean over a fairly 
long stretch, for the remark is one of a repertory of retorts I 
carry about in my head, waiting for the chance to spring 
them. This is a form of wit I call prepartee prepared re- 
partee for use in contingencies that may or may not arise. 
For instance, I have been waiting for years for some woman 
to dismiss a dress she has on as "just something I slipped into," 
so that I can say, behind my hand, "Looks more like some- 
thing she slipped and fell into." 

There are two types of prepartee: the kind you can wangle 
an opening for, and the kind you can't. The sally about the 
woman who had no mind, merely a mind of her own, re- 
quired no specific straight line but only a general one, in a 
context I was able to steer the conversation to after bringing 
the woman into it myself. But my plan to retort dryly when 
next I hear somebody say that money doesn't matter, "No, 
provided one has it," is something else again. I can, of course, 
bring up the subject of money any time I choose, but though 
you can lead a stooge to water, you can't make him drink, 
and unless somebody says, "Money doesn't matter," in so 
many words, or virtually that, I will never get to use the 
riposte. 

The chances of my getting a feeder for it are slimmer than 
you might think. Cliches are like cops, in that you can never 

251 



Laughter in the Easement 

find one when you want one. This applies to trite questions 
as well as trite statements. I have been waiting since 1948 for 
some poor devil to ask, "What does a woman want most in 
a man?," so that I can come back, quick as a flash, with 
"Fiscal attraction." And I have been lying in wait even longer 
to hear so much as the vaguest reference to current realistic 
fiction as a reflection of our time, so that I can murmur, "I 
had thought it rather a reflection on it." 

I almost murmured that one in Cos Cob. I was at a buffet 
supper in the home of friends there, and found myself in the 
library with the hostess and a couple of other guests. It was a 
week after my quip about the woman with no mind, and I 
had been trying to analyze just why it had failed. I had finally 
diagnosed my waggeries as, texturally, the suave and under- 
played sort, requiring small groups and an intimate, offhand 
delivery, so I was happy to find myself in the snug library 
with just a handful of people, well away from the general 
commotion in the living room, so reminiscent of the pre- 
vious week's mob. Coffee had been poured and brandy was 
passed. I began setting up the conversation for my little mot 
about realistic novels. Having lit my pipe, I squeezed from 
the packed shelves a volume of fiction suited to my design 
and casually asked the hostess, "Have you read this?" 

She nodded briskly. "Yes, I thought it pretty good of its 
kind," she said. 

"Ah, of its kind. But what good is its kind?" I asked. 

By dint of such questions, by tirelessly jockeying the dis- 
cussion this way and that, by nudging, cuing, and tinkering 
with her responses, I succeeded in maneuvering her to within 
striking distance of my aphorism. Prepartee is very much like 
those games in which, over a course beset with delays, digres- 
sions, "penalties," and other pitfalls, one tries to move a disc 
to a goal marked "Home." After a quarter of an hour, I 
heard the hostess say, "Well, I mean realistic novels of this 



Laughter in the 'Basement 

sort, whatever you may think of them artistically, do have 
some value for our time." 

I sat on the edge of my chair. One more jump and I would 
be Home. Very carefully, very deliberately, I said, "How do 
you mean?" 

At that moment, a hearty character in tweeds boomed into 
the room. "Just a minute," I snapped. "Ethel here is talking. 
Go on, Ethel. What was it you were saying? What are these 
novels in connection with our time?" 

"They hold a mirror up to it," she said. 

I sat back in my chair. "I see," I said, and reached for my 
cold cup of coffee. 

With Home so hard to gain in manipulable contexts, the 
chances of scoring with rejoinders depending on straight 
lines you can't even begin to finagle are discouraging indeed. 
Thus the odds against my ever being told, by a newcomer to 
my community, "We'd like to meet some people who count," 
in order that I may answer, "Well, I can introduce you to a 
couple of bank tellers," are really astronomical. And I long 
ago decided not to hold my breath till I hear someone refer 
to a third party as "my cousin twice removed," so I can 
say, "I didn't know he was your cousin, but I knew r he was 
twice removed once as treasurer of his firm and later to 
the state prison at Ossining." 

Recognizing all this, I eventually scaled my ambitions down 
to where I bluntly asked people to stooge for me, as you do 
in putting a riddle. This is a tawdry substitute for the real 
thing, but better than nothing when you're bent on making 
an impression, as I was recently at a party where I found my- 
self a deux with a toothsome girl, a house guest of the host 
and hostess. We were sitting together on the floor, through 
which the sound of laughter from the basement game room 
occasionally seeped. We sat leaning against chairs, with our 



Laughter in the Easement 

elbows hitched up on the seats, having a pleasant chat. I had 
spotted her from the first as a merry, responsive sort, a kid 
who could go along with a joke. In no connection, I turned 
to her and said, "Did I ever tell you about my cousin twice 
removed? 7 ' 

She shook her head, tossing a wealth of black hair. "No. 
What about him?" she asked. 

"Well, as I say, he was twice removed once as treasurer 
of the bank he was connected with and later to the state 
prison at Ossining." 

She laughed gaily, throwing her head back. "So you've got 
a banker in jail in your family?" she said. "Well, we've got a 
congressman at large in ours." 

Having failed with large groups, then with small, and 
finally with a single companion (the less said about that brash 
chit the better), there seemed nothing left for me to do but 
talk to myself, a state to which frustration has brought 
stronger men than I. However, I rallied after making what 
you might call one more strategic retreat. I thought I would 
apply the technique I had evolved to the lowest common de- 
nominatorthe practical joke. 

We know a couple, living in one of the suburban towns 
near Westport, named Moses. They are of impressive Yankee 
extraction, and moved down from Vermont six years ago. 
One of the nuisances of living in the country is, of course, 
power failures, and I got the notion of ringing them up some- 
time when the electricity was off, and asking, "Where was 
Moses when the lights went out?" This is admittedly a far 
cry from my early high ideals for prepartee so far, indeed, 
as to be not true prepartee at all. Nevertheless, as some 
philosopher or other has said, a difference in quantity, if great 
enough, becomes a difference in quality, and this gag de- 
pended on such a number of factors going just right that 

260 



Laughter in the Basement 

is to say, just wrong that I felt it to be qualitatively unique. 
It required, to begin with, a meteorological mishap of such 
extent and duration as to plunge into darkness an area wide 
enough to embrace Westport, where I live, and the town 
where the Moseses 5 place is, a good ten miles inland. It called 
for the most perfect timing, in that it would have to be pulled 
when falling limbs had broken the power lines, which are 
strung along the tops of the poles, but not yet the telephone 
connections underneath. It would depend on the Moseses and 
ourselves being brought simultaneously to the same pass. Hav- 
ing met these conditions, it w r ould still require the phone's 
being answered by Mrs. Moses and not Moses himself. (I 
couldn't say, "Where w r ere you when the lights went out?") 
So the sporting odds against my getting Home were actually 
greater than they had been across more cerebral courses. 

It w r asn't until the ice storm early last January, or three and 
a half years after the gag's conception, that the necessary 
factors coincided. I thought I saw my chance during the big 
blow of '51, when the winds attained hurricane force, but 
our power and phone lines were both reduced to spaghetti 
before I could get my w r its about me. However, in this win- 
ter's glaceed adventure, our juice went at dusk, taking with 
it light, heat, and cooking power. The phone still worked, 
but, of course, it was being monopolized for the time being 
by housewives on the party line making unnecessary calls. 

During dinner, which consisted of shredded wheat 
crouched over by candlelight, I mentally reviewed the situa- 
tion. Everything was in order; it remained to be seen only 
whether the Moseses could be got through to by phone. 
(That they had no power was a fair certainty, for it had 
been knocked out or shut off for miles around.) I vibrated 
like a scientist for whom every long-awaited element is 
fortuitously aligning itself in his favor, hurrying him toward 
the exquisite moment of experiment. Dinner over, I slipped 

261 



Laughter in the Easement 

into our dark vestibule and sat down at the phone. I found it 
alive and free, and, what was more, the operator got me the 
number I wanted after only a few moments' delay. Hearing 
the ring at the other end, I sat erect, realizing I had forgotten 
there was still a final requisite beyond that of the other 
phone's working a woman's voice would have to answer. 

I heard the phone picked up. "Hello?" a voice said. It was 
a woman's. 

"Where was Moses when the lights went out?" I asked. 

"In bed," she said. "He hasn't been at all well." 

u Aw, gosh, that's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that," I said. 
"What seems to be the trouble?" 

"Oh, the usual flu, grippe, or whatever you want to call 
it," Mis. Moses said. "Who is this?" 

I told her. Then I added, "I've had a cold myself, which is 
probably why you didn't recognize my voice. Well, we were 
just wondering how you two were making out over there. Is 
there anything we can ..." 

Thus prepartee, in either its pure or debased form, is no 
indolent hobby, no pastime for the weak-nerved. The life of 
a parlor desperado, with its long hours in ambush, is a hard 
and often wearing one. It has its midnight post-mortems just 
like its more familiar counterpart, departee which is, I 
think, the proper term for remarks thought up on the way 
home. I don't know which is the more frustrating, moments 
to which one has proved unequal or stunners for which no 
occasion arose, but I have found both abrasive. My little tit- 
tup about Moses and the lights came to an end when I hung 
up to find my wife behind me with a flashlight, a child cling- 
ing to either leg. "Who was that?" she asked, playing the 
beam on me. I told her. I also told her why I had phoned, and 
said that I wondered why Mrs. Moses hadn't been more on 

262 



Part of the family Picture 

the ball. I asked my wife whether she didn't think the line 
was funny. "Funny!" she said. "Don't make me laugh." 



PART OF THE FAMILY PICTURE 

AT FORTY-EIGHT, Vogelsang had a profitable dry-cleaning 
plant, a house in Armonk, a wife his own age, and a son 
named Kermit w r ho was attending a boys' college in Massa- 
chusetts. The son was not fat, but a prevailing rotundity 
made him seem so. He had a round face in which two pink 
cheeks misrepresented him as cherubic, and he wore glasses, 
which he kept on when he went in swimming. 

One Sunday when he was down from school, the family 
spent some time discussing what next to do about the mother, 
who had a stomach complaint which had baffled two doctors. 
Vogelsang became aware of a repressed eagerness in the boy, 
who caught Vogelsang's eye at length and beckoned him up- 
stairs to his room with a jerk of his head. 

"I want to talk to you," Kermit said in his room, shutting 
the door. "Sit down." 

"Thanks," Vogelsang said ironically, taking the chair that 
Kermit waved to. 

"It's about Moth," Kermit said, using an abbreviation which 
set well with nobody. "These doctors can't find anything 
and probably won't. It's something functional." Vogelsang 
hesitated. "Psychological." 

"You mean upstairs?" Vogelsang said, entertained. He 
tapped his temple with two fingers. 

Kermit shook his head. "There's no upstairs. The body and 
the mind are one." 

Information such as this was borne regularly southward 

263 



Part of the Family Picture 

from Massachusetts. The boy knew that the origins of mo- 
nogamy were economic, that religions are deflections of the 
sexual nature, that symmetrical living had perished with the 
ancient Greeks. Now he knew this. 

"There's no upstairs?" Vogelsang said softly, in mock 
reverence. He was really waiting it out. Muffing words like 
"functional" had bred in him a wariness the last time it had 
applied to architecture. He had once gone halfway through 
a bitter argument with Kermit under the impression that 
erogenous zones were vice districts. 

"I don't want to see you throw good money after bad," 
Kermit went on, as Vogelsang, who had been looking for- 
ward to a fresh cigar and a still unopened copy of Esquire, 
glanced unhappily at the closed door. "You're speaking of a 
clinic. Well, ninety percent of the cases that get to clinics are 
psychic. And ninety percent of those are stomach cases. 
What's at the bottom of Moth's condition is most likely an 
emotional disturbance. Believe me. The thing to do is to get 
her to an analyst." 

Kermit had drifted over behind a small writing desk which 
was tumbled high with reading matter, so that he offered the 
illusion of standing waist-deep in books. It was a kind of 
tableau which Vogelsang worked up in his mind, then resisted. 
Kermit continued his explanations for five or six minutes, then 
he said: "Well? What do you think?" 

Vogelsang had been thinking that Jake Vandermeer, a 
friend of his who owned a chain of dry-cleaning stores and a 
country place near Darien with sixty acres, had given more 
money to the school Kermit went to than Kermit would 
probably make in his lifetime, and had not finished eighth 
grade. The reflection was a siding from which to watch the 
streamlined verbiage go by. "Malingering," "psychic," "neu- 
rasthenic" streaked past like the names of coaches of which 
Vogelsang had not even got the spelling. With a small gold 



Part of the Fa?nily Picture 

penknife he pruned a panatela, dropping the hull into an 
ashtray, or rather missing, so that it fell to the rug. He 
checked the draft of the cigar with an experimental suck, but 
delayed lighting up till he should be at peace. u Like what kind 
of emotional disturbance?" he asked. 

"Who knows?" Kermit shrugged. "Some, oh, lack frus- 
tration boiling up in Moth's time of life," he said. "It would 
have to be dug into, probably in relation to the family pic- 
ture. That's what those troubles are part of the family pic- 
ture." 

Vogelsang surveyed his son from beneath heavy lids. "For 
instance," he commanded. 

Kermit went over and picked up the cigar hull and dropped 
it in the ashtray, like a bug. "Oh, one approach might be 
that Moth is a sort of business widow. For years you've been 
buried in either your work or a magazine. You're a good guy 
and all, but you couldn't exactly say you wore your heart on 
your sleeve." 

Vogelsang folded the knife shut and pocketed it. "Hasn't 
my heart always been in the right place?" he said with re- 
sentment. 

"It's not that. You know how women are." 

Vogelsang fidgeted forward in his chair. The virgin cigar 
grew tattered in his clutch. "No," he said derisively, "I don't. 
How are they?" 

"They live for affection, and if it's denied them well, any 
part of the body can become an attention-getting mechanism. 
That, in a nutshell, is psychosomatic medicine." 

Vogelsang felt an angry rapture at the promenade of learn- 
ing for which he footed the monthly bills. He turned and 
smiled one-sidedly, as though to a third party in the room. 
"Why spend another buck when we got a psychiatrist right 
here in the house?" he said. He immediately regretted "buck," 
which had been vaguely retaliatory. 

265 



Part of the Family Picture 

Kermit made a gesture of defeat. "That bourgeois super- 
stition over the very word 'psychiatrist,' " he said. 

Vogelsang rose. 

"Maybe there is this new kind of medicine that's going 
around. And maybe I'm anyhow seeing signs of what you 
think you'd like to be," he said. "Well, when you've made 
out in life half as good as some of the people you lump in 
that class, bourgeois, why, we'll decide how good your advice 
is." He walked to the door. "And I'll tell you this. There's 
two words I'm damn sick of bourgeois and psychoseman- 
tic!" Wounded in spirit, he withdrew to his room,, where 
instead of picking up the Esquire^ and with his tongue re- 
pairing the lesions in his cigar, he sat thinking of Jake Van- 
dermeer, whose house had twenty-seven rooms and who also 
had a swimming pool with an island in the middle of it on 
which guests could eat, and with a catwalk for the servants 
to bring the food on. It was a thought from which he fre- 
quently drew encouragement. 

Putting his wife in the hands of a top stomach man, as 
Vogelsang instantly did, was an act of self-defense. It was as 
though his honor, having somehow been indicted, was now 
on trial. Since the conversation with Kermit, Vogelsang had 
had a plummet of misgiving. A bookkeeper in his own office, 
now that he came to think of it, had told of an aunt who had 
been troubled with headaches, dizziness, and repeated nausea, 
all inexplicable until a mother-in-law had been removed 
from the house. Then it had cleared up. Vogelsang wondered 
how anybody could survive such farcical injury. The new 
specialist phoned Vogelsang a report on the first X-ray, and 
it was negative. 

"We'll take others," Vogelsang said. "There's lots of them 
a series. We'll spare no expense." He sat watching his wife 
narrowly. "Haven't I always been that way spare no ex- 

266 



Part of the Family Picture 

pense? Car of your own, the best in kitchen equipment, a 
maid the minute I could afford it?" 

His wife nodded mechanically, finding these protestations 
elliptical, but grateful for the growing solicitude. He poked 
a thermometer in her mouth with a tender tyranny and went 
to the kitchen to make some tea, with his own hands, though 
the maid was in her room. The thermometer read ninety -nine 
and eight-tenths. Kermit, home for the next weekend, told 
them not to worry too much about it "Low-grade fevers 
can be functional." Vogelsang, whose exasperation with this 
nettle of a boy was exceeded only by his anxiety for his wife, 
told himself that when this was all over he was going to take 
him out to the garage, as to a woodshed. He would literally 
do this, carrying a hairbrush or strap. 

News came of what was presumably the last of the X-rays. 
It was negative. 

Vogelsang wet his lips and gave his belt a hitch, sensing 
Kermit beckon him into the living room. He saw his wife at 
the analyst's, unwinding the cerements of secrecy from the 
chronicle of their marriage bed. "Psst," Kermit called. Vogel- 
sang went over. 

"Fortescu, this chap at school I think IVe mentioned, knows 
a good psychiatrist. They had him for his aunt," Kermit said. 
"Now let's simply go ahead and make a date for Moth." 

Something in the sequence of syllables, the juxtaposition of 
"chap" and "Moth," rallied Vogelsang's resistance. He an- 
swered in the tone of a sentenced prisoner declaring that he 
will fight his case to the highest court. "Well take it to Mayo 
Brothers," he said. 

"Mayo Brothers!" Kermit said, with a frown. "The Mecca 
of neurotics." 

"Be careful what you call the mother who bore you!" 
Vogelsang said in a loud voice, glancing out the door to see 
if his wife was anywhere near and had heard. She had, and 

261 



Part of the Family Picture 

came in. Seeing a chance to convert retreat into an offensive, 
A^ogelsang quickly pointed at Kermit and said, "He claims it's 
all in yoor head." 

Protesting that this phrasing put them back a hundred 
years, Kermit insisted on stating the matter himself. His 
mother heard him out, and agreed with unexpected com- 
pliance, if with a shrug, that they might as well try that next. 

"The doctor's name," Kermit said, with a glance at his 
father, "is Strogonoff." 

Strogonoff, a lean, weary man with exquisite haberdashery, 
sorted patients instinctively into two categories those who 
had read Freud and company and those who hadn't not 
that he was sure in his mind which was better. Mrs. Vogel- 
sang at any rate fell smoothly into hers as, thickset, short, and 
fair, and clutching an armful of bundles from a round of 
shopping, she entered the office looking around for the couch 
made familiar by stage and screen. Strogonoff had bought one 
because it was expected. He was oppressed by a sense of 
vogue, of too many people aspiring to be patients. Mrs. Vogel- 
sang made her way with smiling interest toward the couch, 
on which had previously lain a sculptress whose husband 
tortured their infant son with ice cubes, and before that a 
young meteorologist who wondered whether he should buy 
a house in the country because there he continually picked 
up twigs and broke them in half, then into quarters, then into 
eighths. 

"Shall I take my shoes off?" Mrs. Vogelsang asked, having 
dropped her parcels on a chair. 

"Go right ahead," Strogonoff said. He had already aban- 
doned the case. 

Her shoes shucked off and nudged out of sight, she lay 
down with a grateful sigh. "When I was a little girl I used to 
like to -" 

268 



Part of the Family Picture 

"Over the phone something was said about your having 
pains," Strogonoff said. "What is the matter with you?" 

She commenced a recital of her difficulties. Strogonoff cued 
her to trace them backwards through the years, interrupting 
only enough to keep her, as with the deft pressure of a snaffle, 
on the subject of her symptoms. A half hour passed, three 
quarters. Strogonoff's ear picked up something, and he 
straightened in his chair. 

"This pain you say you had 'more on the right side,' the 
night your husband took you to the bowling match," he said. 
"Was it sharp, and up here perhaps?" He laid a hand on his 
trunk, well away from the stomach. She raised herself up to 
see, and nodded, doubtfully at first, trying to remember* 

"A little baking soda seemed to help, at least it went away," 
she said, nuzzling a stockinged arch over an instep. 

"Have you ever had your gall bladder checked?" Strogo- 
noff asked. 

"No." 

"Do so." 

With this dug up out of the patient's past to go on, the 
family doctor got in touch with a gall bladder specialist, who 
explored exhaustively, in his fashion, thought about it all, and 
suddenly decided to operate. Vogelsang stepped into a West- 
ern Union office and dispatched a wire to Kermit running: 
"Trouble gall bladder stop specialist set operate Wednesday 
stop expect you here." He pressed the pencil so hard that 
when he left the place, the indented message was legible on 
the next sheet of the pad. 

Kermit, who arrived too late Tuesday night to talk to the 
specialist, sought him out at the hospital the next morning a 
few minutes prior to surgery. Vogelsang trailed a step behind 
him, going down the hospital corridor, performing the intro- 
ductions when he drew up. 



Part of the family Picture 

"May I ask what the X-ray showed?" Kermit asked the 
doctor, an urbane, elderly man named Smollett. 

"Nothing," Dr. Smollett replied agreeably. He had a chart 
cradled on one arm. "Stones," he went on, as though he were 
a lapidary rather than a medical man, "are sometimes trans- 
lucent, and thus escape detection. Second, they migrate." He 
paused and jotted something on the chart with no impairment 
of his courtesy. 

"Then how do you know they're there?" 

Dr. Smollett looked up and explained, "Diseases often travel 
incognito. I'll grant you the bulk of the symptoms here are 
dyspepsia, but that's one of the guises assumed by the disorder 
it's my job to find. You don't always grease the wheel where 
it squeaks, don't always grease the wheel where it squeaks," 
he went on, as though he had obtained his education from a 
cracked phonograph record, but he was only being elemen- 
tary, and thus repetitious. "I'll stake my sixty-two years on 
this case." Vogelsang stood by as though witnessing a thrash- 
ing he had authorized. It was like the end of the thrashing 
when Doctor Smollett said "digestive constellation," words 
which reached Vogelsang heroically, like band music. He 
allied himself with the aplomb, though Smollett might as well 
have been talking Choctaw. "The stomach," Dr. Smollett 
finished, in modulations Vogelsang could only worship from 
afar, like an island in a swimming pool, "has been called the 
greatest Har in the anatomy." 

Kermit glanced from the doctor to Vogelsang and back 
again to the doctor, like young men Vogelsang had seen in 
morion pictures, then shouldered his way off between them. 

That was ten o'clock in the morning, the hour scheduled, 
and by twelve Dr. Smollett had not yet come down to the 
lobby where Vogelsang and Kermit were waiting. They 
would get up out of a chair and pace, or get out of one chair 
and into another. Kermit had a book with him, from force of 

2JO 



Part of the Family Picture 

habit, which he didn't open. Vogelsang drifted over and 
glanced at the title twice, because he had forgotten what 
he'd read the first time, or even that he had looked. Some- 
thing about semantics. Suddenly Vogelsang broke through 
the swinging doors at the end of the lobby and went out to a 
bar across the street. 

"Rye and soda," he ordered. He had an urge to release his 
anxiety in talk, any kind of talk, and did. To a bartender 
inured to obscure circuits of association, he related something 
of the affairs of Jake Vandermeer. "There's a terrace on this 
place," he said, by way of concluding a lengthy description 
of it, "with a statue of Venus that's got a radio in her 
stomach. Like those clocks, you know?" The bartender con- 
tinued impassive, as though something more were needed. 
"Paul Newman was there," Vogelsang said. 

He saw that twenty minutes had gone, gulped his drink, 
and galloped back to the lobby. 

Still no Dr. Smollett, it was plain from Kermit's posture 
his feet spread out and his head back on the chair as well as 
from his expression as he rolled an eye at Vogelsang without 
moving his head. An apprehension clawed Vogelsang: Smol- 
lett had found nothing and was afraid to come down. Vogel- 
sang could see him, put to rout in his sixty-third year, an 
effigy of self-possession. Then the elevator doors slid open, 
and there he was. 

"Everything is okay," he said. He pinched his eyeballs in 
toward the bridge of his nose in that gesture which is one of 
the ciphers of fatigue. "I found about what I expected not 
much, but enough to have caused the trouble. We've got the 
culprit at last." 

When Vogelsang drove home, late that night, Kermit sat 
beside him, looking out of the car window and saying noth- 

271 



Part of the Family Picture 

ing. Vogelsang steered onto the drive, at last, and across the 
gravel which gave forth its welcome scrunch and into the 
open garage. He slid the fenders carefully to rest alongside a 
protruding row of firewood which was stacked against one 
wall. Kermit opened his door and got out. 

u just a minute," Vogelsang said. Kermit, who had started 
away, turned back. "You forgot your book." Vogelsang 
picked it up off the seat and handed it to him. Kermit took it 
and went in the house. 

The maid fixed them a bite of supper their first food 
since a sketchy breakfast, though it w r as nearly midnight. 
They sat in the living room waiting for it, Vogelsang with 
his coat off and his tie loosened. Kermit put his legs straight 
out ahead of him on an ottoman, his feet side by side, the flat 
of the soles toward Vogelsang. Vogelsang looked at him, then 
looked away. He thought of how the boy went in the water 
with his glasses on. 

"That book," he said, pointing at a table where Kermit had 
set it when he entered, "It's about this new stuff, semantics, I 
see." He hooked a chair toward him with his toe and slung a 
foot on it. He fished a cigar from a nearby humidor and 
dressed it. "What the devil is that all about, semantics? Ex- 
plain it to me." He raised his head and laughed. "But take it 
slow. The first time I saw the word I thought it was all about 
pottery." 



272 



YOU KNOW ME ALICE 

(Some correspondence we might have 
if Ring Lardner 'were alive today) 

Westport, Conn., May 2, 
DEAR ALICE: 

Well hon here I am managing a Little League team in 
Westport. The job at the Bridgeport Brass is all set and we 
can get personaly welded as soon as your mother's hip mends 
and you can get out here. Meanwhile I'm living in a rooming 
house near the Penn Central R.R. tracks here riding the train 
to work so I'm what you could call a commuter only going 
the other way, not one them Madison Ave. birds carrying one 
them lether reticules into the Big Town and back every day. 
So hence the postmark which must of gave you quite a turn. 

Managing a ball team ain't what it use to be in the old days 
and may still be out there in Keokuk. Time was when all 
you had to know about your material was wether they could 
do something with a bat besides supply a little extra ventila- 
tion on hot days or pull down a fast clothesliner off second. 
Now you have to worry about tension spans and what they 
call stribling rivalry and one thing another in other words 
why they might not be performing up to snuff on the above. 
The last mentioned is when you have two brothers on the 
same team as I happen to of drew. Their mother told me 
they have these feelings of mutual hostility due to a family 
situation which she will go into with rne in more detail later 
if they Is any danger of our not copping the penant and that 
It was her experience that the best way out of a jam was 
substitute situations. So I says how would it be if I always 



You Know Me Alice 

had one them warming the bench to go in for the other if 
needs be and she siezed my hand and kissed it and then went 
and hid in the car she had brung them in, a blue Jag con- 
vertible which the family have been, driving with the top up 
I understand because they are in mourning. 

Well kid they being the first arrivals for the opening prac- 
tise I got a bat and started hitting them some fungos. The 
mother sat shivering in the Jag watching the proseedings 
through the windshield. This is what she seen. 

The one kid whose name is Martin had this idea that some- 
body had ast him to impersonate a croquet wicket in creative 
play because every time I hit him a grounder he would have 
his feet planted the exact distance apart at just the right time 
for the ball to pass through without no hindranse. After 
about five or six of these flawless imitations the mother came 
over to shed some light on it. He has this will to fail she said 
and went back to shiver in the Jag some more. I thanked her 
for this piece of info to help rne in forming my first team 
and turned to look for the brother. 

This kid is a compulsory eater they call them. He was 
nowheres to be seen at first then I made out a speck against 
the refreshment stand which at this field is about 500 yards 
from our diamond, one of 3, no doubt telling the woman on 
hot dogs there to keep 'em coming. The mother started up 
the Jag and drove over to get him hollering out the window 
at me He fears competition and seeks ecscape in food as she 
went by. When the car was gone I yelled to the other kid 
What's your brother's name? and he yelled back Stringfellow 
and I had the case diagnozed. 

By now the mothers were arriving in droves with their 
hopefuls by auto (nobody walks in Westport unless an ump 
gives them a base on balls) most of the mothers and an oc- 
casional father staying to have a word with me and there 

274 



You Know Me Alice 

being enough kids to keep theirselves busy for a while on 
their own I went over to the bleachers where I set up a small 
office to hear out the parents lining up with dossiers on the 
prospective athaletes. 

Fll give you my starting lineup next time preferring to use 
the rest of this sheet to remind you that letter writing ain't 
my fort and that I wisht you was here in person holding it 
with me. You know me Alice. 

Yours sincerely, 
ED. 

Bridgeport, Conn.^ May 18. 
Dear Alice: 

Well hon I'm writing this in the shop where I got a little 
lunch time left over on top of a crate. 

Well Alice my starting lineup on 'the first game was as 
follows. In left, center and right I got three oral types which 
is fine for talking it up around the outfield. On first a kid 
who has a thing about sliding. I let him bat just before my 
two best hitters so in case he gets on third he'll have the 
highest possible chance to coalchute it home looking dramatic 
and important like his mother says he needs to while he 
spanks the dust off hisself to gain confidence. Martin is on 
second. I can't do nothing with his brother while he is on 
the pickalily and if he muffed one might head strait for the 
refreshment stand to seek consolation there and never be seen 
again. I can't take the responsibility. Shortstop and third I 
have very little to go on as they are underpriviledged kids 
from the r.r. tracks nobody ever gives no thought to, just 
good ball players in the hot spots though I am told one of 
them might be out stealing something more serious than 
second if they wasn't second to steal with the girls looking 
on. The catcher is a swell natured kid whose as broad as he's 
long and can stop any reasonable pitch because of the sheer 



You Know Me Alice 

bulk there Is to get past. You can always use an obeesity case 
behind the plate. 

Now on this level hon which is the beginners from 8 on up 
your everperennial problem is pitching. Few have the ex- 
perience or control at that age. In making up my notes on 
my squad a woman named Mrs. Niswonger said to me in a 
interview I granted her consenting her son Artie who wanted 
to pitch Nicknames are very revealing don't you know and 
they call Artie the Strike Out King. Well I learned through 
some side investigation that they call him that when he is at 
bat, when he is on the mound he is known as the Sultan of 
Swat due to how good he can make even a kronic whiffer 
look. I ast her didn't she think in that case we had ought to 
start somebody else in the box and she says What and deel 
him a blow to his eggo from which he might never recover? 
In this part the country where they know more about those 
things you put players in where they're weak so as to bolster 
their confidence and make athaletes out of them. The only 
other pitcher I had was no better than Niswonger anyway 
so I started Nisw r onger. 

So that was the opening roster for our first game. It was 
with the Blue jays. We're the Robins so you can see we have 
a bird moteef this yr. The plate ump was the guidance coun- 
selor for one of the schools so hence he knew most of the 
kids' potenshul already and how to sound off the calls wether 
loud or easy on their nerves and etc. A local dentist umped 
bases for us. 

Niswonger wasn't no worse than the Blue jays' pitcher. 
He walked the first eight of our batters giving us five runs 
and three men on base with none away. The suspense was 
unbearable when would he put one over? In the consulting 
room (formerly known as the bleachers) the mothers were 
yacking it up amongst theirselves, trading slants on their sons 
and occasionally shouting That's looking 'em over! and It 

21 6 



You Know Me Alice 

only takes one! and so on from lists that they carried with 
suitable things to holler. At this point the kid with the thing 
about sliding was on third and with ball four called on the 
batter he came home another forced run. As he strolls 
home his mother jumps to her feet in the stands and yells 
Slide! He does. He takes a running start and then dropping 
down on one side just as pretty as you'd want shoots across 
the plate like a torpedo nearly spiking the guidance counselor 
who got his feet out of the way just in time. 

Suddenly the pitcher got his range and retired three of 
us in a row and in the bottom of the inning Niswonger 
promply oblidged the opposition by starting up the Big 
Parade around the bags again. He walked seven in a row and 
then finally got one over that the Blue jay at bat sent into 
left field for a homer and a two run lead for the enemy. 

At this junkture I debated yanking Niswonger. But sens- 
ing what was in the wind Mrs. Niswonger hightailed it 
over to our dugout hauling the plate ump with her this 
guidance counselor. He sketched in the basic factors in the 
bind we were in. The kid's father couldn't get past the Bilt- 
rnore Men's Bar unless hogtied and dragged past and then 
only with the reminder that they was still the bar car to sit 
in and overshoot his station by a couple stops landing him 
closer to Wallingford than Westport and this together with 
the threat of iminent divorce it led to give the kid such a 
feeling of uncertainty that if I pulled him at this crisis I and 
I alone would have to answer for the consequences. He 
wouldn't the ump that is. He seemed to know what he was 
talking about. He got his P.H.D. at the U. of Pennsylvania 
with a thesis on sulking which he is the leading authority on 
so I let things ride. All this while the base ump was handing 
out spice drops to the infield from a good sapply he had 
on him. As a town dentist he can't see why all the to do 
about a few cavities. 



You Know Me Alice 

Suffise it to say Niswonger worked his way out of the 
hole and we tied the score and then they was a sudden 
shower which the way they performed I says they should 
ought to all go take anyways includeing the mothers. One 
woman listening to me dish it out in that vain said You must 
get a grate deal of compensation out of bossing a bunch of 
kids around and I says to her Lady nobody offered me a 
nickle to do this and I would not except it if they did. I 
couldn't button my lip but went on to say that I liked work- 
ing with boys if only I could get rid of the full cooperation 
of the parents espesially the women. Then the kid with the 
will to fail's mother got into the act to my surprise. She was 
eavesdropping on the rhubarb from the Jag where she sud- 
denly must of got her courage up because she says Evadently 
you are equally good at pushing ladies around and do we 
deserve to sirvive as a race and I says If you weren't all ladies 
I would give you my opinion of you in two words, blather 
skites. Then she says My husband will wish to see you to- 
morrow or so and I says Send him around, haveing visions 
of being strode up to by this guy in one them gaberdeen 
suits Alice and being slapped across the chops with one them 
lether handbags that they carry. Which would at least bring 
the rhubarb up to the man to man level where it belongs. 
All this while we were getting no dryer accept for the 
woman snug in the Jag. I was between her and the first 
woman with two out in the top of the third and the score 
tied eight all and a man on second. Then the first woman 
says You certainly seem to have a lot of hidden hostilities and 
I says What's hidden about them? and she didn't have no 
comeback. I may of been a little sharp but my job is hard 
enough without a lot of bystanders going off *4 cocked 
about how it should ought to be done. 

Well with the rain showing no signs of letting up they 
was nothing to do but call the game a tie to be played off 

2-18 



You Know Me Alice 

later though who picked up the marbles on the rhubarb I 
will leave you to be the judge. You know me Alice. I don't 
want nobody sticking their $0.02 into my affairs though I am 
perfectly willing to listen to any reasonable offer of advice 
even in this matriarky I think they call this type of culture. 
I agree with you about the amount of furniture we should 
start off with though why it should all be bird's eye maple 
I fail to see. I have always kind of had this feeling of mutual 
hostility toward bird's eye maple. More of this later. 

Yours, 
ED. 

Westport, Conn., July 2. 
Dear Alice: 

It's grate news your mother's hip is better and well enough 
for you to practically garantee you'll be here in a week. All 
as I can say is I'll be glad when we can get settled. But I 
wisht you could of been here with me last night. As you 
know we finally had this playoff of that tie game with the 
Blue] ays which was also a game breaking a tie with them for 
fourth place and brother! I never see such exitement. It was 
the most satisfying evening of my life sports-wise. 

To begin with they was no mothers around. They all went 
to the Mental Health Ball which is more important this year 
than ever before they tell me because of the whopping 
amount that has to be raised. Malajustments are on the in- 
crease in all these communities where they take such an 
interest in their children's minds and organize their play and 
all for some strange reason another. The guidance counselor 
was chairman of the affair so he wasn't on hand neither. The 
dentist umped both plate and bases, doing so from the 
pitcher's box. 

While he may be a firstrate dentist he could use a. good 
eye doctor hisself judging from some them calls Alice. The 



You Know Me Alice 

kid with the thing about sliding has got another thing about 
ducking pitches. It's the same thing really the way they 
explain it. He has the same chance to drop beautifully put- 
ting on the same kind of show stirring up dust which he 
spanks off his uniform like one who has just ecscaped sudden 
death to bolster his eggo. They was a fast ball heading straight 
for his coco but even as he made for terra firma the ump 
yelled Steerike! pointing a thumb over his shoulder in the 
general direction of Cos Cob to say he was out. Well Alice 
it is the first time I ever see a man called out on two strikes 
but the ump's memory was as stubborn as it was wobbly and 
he stood on his right not to have to reverse a decision if he 
didn't feel like it. I for my part told the kids to show some 
sportsmanship and stow the repertee such as Get a tin cup 
with some pencils in it! and etc. But that ain't how we made 
Little League history that night. I'm coming to that now. 

Emotions by this junkture were raw. Both sides had suf- 
fered equally from the % baked umping so never mind that 
but by the last inning as a result and with no mothers to 
guide them they were playing like fiends. Since we were the 
home team this time we had last licks. Not that we ever got 
them and thereby hangs the tale. 

Midway through their licks the Blue] ays put in a pinch 
hitter with two on and two away and the score tied five all. 
Here the Blue] ay runner on first started yelling to the batter 
Put one through second where you like to Jack! He couldn't 
catch a cold in an icebox in Alaska! Meaning rightly enough 
Martin our croquet wicket. But by now Martin had had it. 
His dandruff was up like nothing I ever see. Thank God his 
mother wasn't around to badger me with no substitute situa- 
tions, just let him stay there and take it. When our catcher 
threw a bad return to Niswonger who was pitching it went 
over Niswonger's head toward Martin and this time he man- 
aged to get hold of it. Well taunts the wit on first what 

280 



You Know Me Alice 

happened? This says Martin and threw the ball at him like 
a rock. He caught it making sure to keep his foot on the 
bag so as not to be called out and shot it right back just as 
hard as he could. This time it went as usual through Martin's 
legs and the other kid says You'd make a grate football 
player a center. That did it. Martin ran over and let him 
have it with both fists. 

Well hon don't ask me to describe in detail what happened 
because I couldn't. In a second the whole infield was a malay 
I couldn't begin to give a blow by blow account of and blow 
by blow it would have to be because this wasn't just no or- 
dinary rhubarb. This w T as It. Neither I or the other manager 
interfered. It did our hearts too good to see it. It thrilled us. 
Something went up my spine like band music good and loud 
at the sight of those boys out there mixing it up. Being boys 
at last. I never see a group so integrated. You couldn't tell 
w r hose arms and legs belonged to who they was such a solid 
tangle of them \vhaling the tar out of one another. The ump 
didn't interfere neither having even less objection to loose 
teeth than to cavities. He stood smiling by along with us 
managers. 

I'd say we beat the Bluejays that night though I'd have no 
w-ay of proving it accept by a count of shiners and bloody 
noses. By the time we did pull the last ones apart figuring 
we had had our hearts done enough good and got our charges 
tidied up a little it was too dark to resoom. The other man- 
ager and I chipped in to buy them all pop at the refreshment 
stand w r here they all rushed pellmell like one happy family 
now. 

Well so ends one Little League season for one manager. 
Probably his last judging from what the mothers said when 
they heard what happened. But it's just as well they bad me 
fond ado before the official farewell because the boys chipped 
in and bought me a beautiful silver money clip with my 

281 



A Walk in the Country; or. How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

inishles on It whereas if the mothers had of still had a hand 
in the proseedings you and I might now be libel to own one 
them pieces of dead wood that looks so charming on tables 
that ain't got no shape neither and how w r ould you fit that 
in with bird's eye maple Alice? But it has been a mighty 
educational experience for this gink. I picked up some pretty 
good pointers on raising kids so come on out here and let's 
get started on that family. Boys that is. We'll add the girls 
later for you if needs be. Financially speaking-wise I know 
what a full house means these days but Fm game. You know 
me Alice. 

Love, 
ED. 



A WALK IN THE COUNTRY; OR, 
HOW TO KEEP FIT TO BE TIED 

WALKING has always been a favorite pastime of mine as well 
as my chief physical exercise, and it was natural, therefore, 
that when I moved from New York City to the outskirts of 
Westport, the prospect of pleasant rambles about the Con- 
necticut countryside ranked high on my list of expectations. 
My first act of leisure, once the strain of getting organized 
had relaxed and my family was settled in the new house, was 
to don an old tweed coat and set off briskly down the road. 
I had gone about a hundred paces, swinging my arms and 
breathing deep lungfuls of the crisp air, when a car approach- 
ing from behind slowed to a stop and a face in a brown 
beret peered anxiously from the tonneau of an open sports 
convertible to inquire, "Anything wrong?" 

282 



A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

"No," I said, "nothing wrong. Thanks just the same." 

The man nodded, slipping the car into gear, but turned 
and glanced doubtfully back before peeling out of sight 
around a bend. 

I resumed my hike. I walked well over on the shoulder 
of what was a very winding, as well as sparsely populated, 
road. Cars outnumbered the houses there by a considerable 
margin. Four or five came by, from both directions, before 
I sensed another slowing to a stop at my back. It was a blue 
sedan with a middle-aged couple in the front seat. The 
woman cranked a window down and thrust her head out. 

"Is there anything ?" she began. 

"No," I said rather peevishly. "Nothing at all. Everything 
is O.K. Thank you." 

"Because w r e thought you might have . . ." Her voice 
trailed off on some vaguely articulated species of human diffi- 
cultymechanical in nature, to be sure, because it was by 
now clear to me that anybody seen walking in these parts 
was presumed to be making his way from, or to, a stalled 
vehicle. 

I stood a moment in the road, after the latest Samaritans 
had gone, debating whether to strike out across the fields. 
But that wasn't what I had come out for. I didn't want to 
pick my way through meadow grass and wood lots; I just 
wanted to go for a walk. I had done so to my heart's content 
on the sidewalks of New York. Why not out here in the 
open? 

I gave it up for now, making a mental note to try, next 
time, a narrow thoroughfare that intersected this road at a 
corner a few thousand feet on the other side of my house. 
It was called a lane, rather than a road or street, and looked 
very rustic. I took off down it the following Sunday morning. 

It was a nice little lane indeed, and, I noted with relief, 
much less heavily traveled than the road. Practically deserted. 



A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

For that reason, however, anyone seen afoot on it must seem 
doubly an object for solicitous inquiry. I swung a hastily 
cut elm stick, hoping thus to advertise my ambulatory intent, 
but it did no good. There was presently the squeal of slowing 
wheels at my back, and a black Jaguar sedan rolled to a stop. 
The front window came down and a voice with a weary 
Harvard accent said, "Give you a lift?" 

"Right," I said, feeling that resistance was useless, and also 
that a brief tour of a road unfamiliar to me might yield a 
byway or two more suited to my needs. I climbed into the 
back seat, in which a youth with a cigarette burning in his 
fingers sat comfortably slumped. At the wheel, beside the 
man who had hailed me, was a very personable young woman 
with her hair bound in a silk scarf. She asked sociably how 
far I was going, and I said, "Oh, just up the road a bit. I'll 
tell you where." 

As we started away, I appraised my companions. They 
appeared to be a family, of which the man in front, with the 
Harvard accent, would be the father. They were all attrac- 
tive, and all desperately well-bred. The youth beside me 
was in his twenties. He produced a silver case and offered me 
a cigarette, which I declined. He wore a blue flannel blazer 
with white piping, gray slacks, and white socks with violet 
clocks. I imagined him to be a ne'er-do-well of the amiable 
Wodehousean sort. 

Once I was settled and we were on our way, the father 
resumed a conversation that I had apparently interrupted. 
"No, the whole thing about Lettie is that she's nostalgic for 
a Paris that simply never was," he said. 

"And that she hasn't seen in any case," said the young 
woman at the wheel. 

"That's the kind of nostalgia it's hardest to cure," the 
youth put in, from the back seat. "For places you've never 
been." 

284 



A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

"And as for the old Germany!" the young woman said. 

"You can see that in Milwaukee," said her brother. 

It was not enough that they pick me up and spirit me 
away. They had to encircle me with brittle conversation into 
the bargain. The father, shaking his head, made some de- 
ploring allusion to a housewarming party this Lettie friend 
of theirs had recently given. "The natives in New Canaan 
are still talking about it," he said. "Climbed the hill for miles 
around to watch. I mean if you want to live in something 
designed by Marcel Breuer, the least you can do is draw the 
draperies at night." 

"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw parties," 
I said, glancing out the window. 

So we bandied pleasantries for ten minutes or more until 
I woke to the realization that we had gone three miles. "Good 
God!" I said. "Let me out. Isn't that the Post Road up there? 
I've gone way past my place." 

When I had got out, I saw that I should have let them 
take me clear up to the Post Road, because it was the shortest 
way home now. I made for it, and struck back toward West- 
port on foot once more. 

Well, this was a different story. Here there was no danger 
of one's walk being interrupted. The cars simply shot past in 
a glittering stream. Yes, this was something else again. When 
I had tramped a mile or so, I felt that I had fulfilled my 
calisthenic purpose, and I began to turn and cast receptive 
glances at the rushing traffic. Nobody even slowed. At last, 
reluctantly, I lifted an arm and pointed a thumb over my 
shoulder. With no result. I did so a second time, then a third. 

There was something wrong here. This was all mixed up. 
What I saw was a grave confusion in public thinking, if not 
a split in the national psyche. Why, when so eager to stop 
on idyllic back roads to the annoyance of pedestrians wishing 
simply to ramble there, must these same people, on a high- 



A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

way that patently none but a maniac would choose for a 
constitutional, flash past at speeds up to sixty and seventy 
miles an hour without giving a man so much as a glance? 

"You're sick," I called to the whizzing phantoms. u Sick, 
do you hear!" I had left my stick in the Jaguar, to my keen 
regret; I could have used one now if not to flourish, then 
to lean on. There was no question of cutting myself another; 
the terrain was barren of verdure. The midmorning sun 
blazed in the sky, growing steadily hotter. I squinted into it 
every time I turned to solicit an approaching car. I finally 
gave up trying to excite interest in myself. I took off my 
coat and mopped my brow. I had walked a mile and a half 
at least, with only half the distance home, or maybe less, 
traversed. Though I was physically rather bushed, my mind 
was extraordinarily alert. 

The figure I cut out there must, I imagined to myself, have 
an element of objective loneliness, like that of the solitary 
Man on the Road that illustrated the dust jackets of so many 
novels of social protest in the thirties. To pass the time, I 
experimented with symbolic variations of this. By trudging 
doggedly along, I typified the bindle stiffs who in the early 
works of John Steinbeck roamed the countryside in search 
of employment. By grinning witlessly, I evoked the gro- 
tesquely doomed "Southerners of Erskine Caldwell. Pausing 
before a billboard emblazoned with some token of a ma- 
terialist culture, I struck an ironic attitude that suggested the 
perceptive underdog as celebrated by William Saroyan. 
Hooking my coat over my shoulder on two fingers, I exe- 
cuted a nervous, almost dancelike step that characterized a 
punch-drunk boxer out of Hemingway. A tilt of the head as 
in the appraisal of fields in which one could take pride re- 
called a whole school of Iowa regionalists eulogists of the 
Breadbasket of a Nation. 

By now I was famished as well as footsore, and I was glad 

286 



A Walk in the Country; or, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied 

to see a diner ahead. I entered it with a hobble aimed at 
favoring a blister on one heel. I sat down on a stool and or- 
dered a hamburger and coffee. I was aware of the counter- 
man's hesitating. The favorite old tweed coat I again had on 
was out at the elbows, giving the sleeves the effect of shot- 
off firecrackers, and I realized that I was dusty and unshaven, 
and might very well be taken for a Steinbeckian vagrant. He 
seemed, at any rate, to prefer to see the color of my money 
before filling the order, so I laid a handful of loose change 
on the counter. It was enough for the food, and for a quarter 
tip for him. As I chewed, I read backward on the window 
the legend "O.K. Diner," for which I mentally substituted 
the words "Hamburger Hell." 

When I had eaten, I wiped my mouth with such fragments 
of paper napkin as I could coax from a dispenser and said, 
"Do you have a phone I could use?" 

"No," he said. He had continued to take me in thought- 
fully. "Is it -urgent?" 

"I wanted to call a cab." 

"Cab?" 

"My dogs are gone." I stooped to loosen my shoelaces in 
a way that eased the pain in my boiled feet somewhat. 

"Oh." He pointed out the window. "There's a public booth 
right over there, by the bus stop." 

"Bus stop," I said, enraged at having overlooked that whole 
possibility, out there on the blasted pike. "You mean local 
buses?" 

"From Bridgeport. They run every half hour. There'll be 
one along in" he consulted a wall clock "ten minutes." 

While waiting for the bus, I rang up my wife. I figured 
she might have begun to worry, my absence from home 
being as prolonged as it was, though I was not above extract- 
ing some perverse relish from her anxious "Where are you?" 

"I'm on the Post Road," I said. 

287 



The Last of the Bluenoses 

"The Post Road! 71 she said. "What on earth are you doing 
out on that?" 

I couldn't very well tell her I was recapitulating recent 
American literary history in terms of a series of gaits, or 
stances, so I said, "Oh, I just went out for a walk and landed 
over here. I'll mosey on home." 

The bus was coming, so I hung up. 

"How much is it?" I asked the driver when I had climbed 
on. "The fare." 

He scrutinized me with an interest similar to that of the 
diner attendant. "Where to? Which stop?" 

"Maple Avenue." 

"Fifteen cents." 

"I'm sorry," I said, "but this is all I've got." 

I w r as glad to be able to annoy the poor devil with a 
twenty-dollar bill. 



THE LAST OF THE BLUENOSES 

I HAVE RECENTLY HEARD several people complain of insomnia 
who are under no discernible stress. This being precisely my 
own current state of affairs, I set my brains to work trying 
to unravel the mystery. The solution came to me in one of 
those pre-dawn stretches of rumination that are the result, 
of course, of the condition herein under scrutiny. 

I had just awakened, not screaming by any manner of 
means, but merely yawning, from a dream so boring as to 
send me gratefully back into the psychically more rewarding 
world of wakeful woolgathering. I dreamt, so help me, I 
dwelt in marble halls. To a more platitudinous level no slum- 
berer can sink, short of Jeanie with the light brown hair, or 

288 



The Last of the Bluenoses 

some unimaginably unimaginative equivalent. Dreaming you 
dwelt in marble halls wakes you up in bed the way it puts 
you to sleep at the opera. Thus it isn't that we low-key in- 
somniacs apparently a vast international club of which you 
yourself may well be a member it isn't that we can't sleep 
as much as that we don't want to. We'd really rather not: 
there is more percentage in fantasy. 

Dreams are fifty years behind the times, like opera, and in 
need of the same drastic overhaul. To use another compari- 
son, dreams are in somewhat the same critical position as 
fiction today, lamented by publishers everywhere as not sell- 
ing simply because it can't hope to compete with the infi- 
nitely more exciting world of fact. Pursuing this line of 
analysis one final step further, we reach the heart of our 
problem and the solution to the mystery. 

Dreams have become Dullsville because we have failed to 
do in that branch of entertainment what we've managed to 
do in all the others: get rid of the censor, or at least haul the 
schnook up to date. There's a sexual revolution going on, for 
God's sake in fact the junta has succeeded and the regime 
has been recognized but the monitor running the subcon- 
scious is still schlepping along on the same Victorian stand- 
ards that obtained when Freud first spotted him pounding 
the night beat. Thus there is this ever-widening gulf between 
our waking world and that of beddy-bye, ruled by an un- 
reconstructed Viennese schmaltz-pot. 

What do we see eighteen hours a day? Miniskirts, see- 
through dresses, topless waitresses, and movies in which the 
sexual principals thresh about in the raw as a matter of course. 
And as for the remainder, intended not only for rest but 
also for some kind of psychic refreshment? It's all this tum- 
of-the-century flatfoot can do to give us a prettily turned 
ankle, and that in the form of a baseball bat or a Coca-Cola 
bottle. No wonder people are schizoid. And they will remain 



The Last of the Eluenoses 

schizoid as long as Nocturne Boulevard goes on being pa- 
trolled by a Keystone Cop. It may be that he fancies himself 
a last holdout, digging in the more doggedly because all the 
other censors have capitulated but ankles! Can't he get his 
mind on higher things? He still thinks it's a big deal letting 
us walk half-naked down the street a couple of times a year, 
but what kind of hacks is that these days when in point of 
fact the public is half-naked to begin with? Why go to 
sleep to see a little skin? 

Nor do the old staples in the standard repertory dreams 
of falling or flying, or trying to run with your feet stuck in 
cheese fondue seern to offer anything in the way of dra- 
matic punch anymore. 

The result was predictable. The added burden thus thrown 
on waking fantasy as a consequence has people woolgather- 
ing, not just when they should be sleeping, but when they 
should be living. My erotic fantasies, for instance, sometimes 
continue uninterruptedly even when Fm making love to my 
wife these often being erotic fantasies about her, mind you, 
in which the matters in hand are given marked imaginary 
escalation and enhancement. Such a one-man band knows 
that his dreams have let him down, thanks, as I say, to this 
proctor who must be impeached or brought abruptly up to 
date. "How?" you might ask. 

I employ a number of devices in at least making the at- 
tempt. I'll reshuffle the night scene by swapping beds with 
my wife a ploy that probably nets little more than my 
getting her censor, scarcely an improvement. More radical 
measures consist in going into the city from the suburbs and 
checking in at some shady fleabag, disguised in dark glasses 
and a soft hat pulled over one eye in hopes of shaking the 
censor, so he won't know where Fm holed up for the night. 
Also the generally laxer moral atmosphere may get through 
to him and shake him up, as it were, if I fail to shake him. 



The Last of the Eluenoses 

The results are not swift and rarely dramatic, but occasion- 
ally an improvement can be detected in the dream content, 
a sense that concessions are being exacted. 

In one fleabag, I dreamt that I was living in a cave in Crete 
with a young dropout from a well-known women's college. 
What could be more Now, more with it, than that? True, 
what we were doing in the cave was some kind of committee 
work, but it's a start. My immediate association with "com- 
mittee work' 1 reminds me to add how the whole psychoana- 
lytical principle of sublimation has been reversed as a result 
of the sex revolution. Instead of sublimating the libido into 
art and philanthropy, as they used to, people are pouring into 
sex the energies that ought to go into worthy causes. In real 
life I had been, just prior to the Crete breakthrough, to a 
committee meeting for our local symphony. There were 
seven of us. The other six paired off and wandered away 
into the night, and I spent the evening with some pornog- 
raphy I found behind the host's set of Balzac. 

One more point. I have never, frankly, understood why 
we have to dream in code anyway. If we are perfectly will- 
ing to admit to ourselves consciously that we covet our 
neighbor's wife may even casually mention the fact to our 
own then why must we express this wish in terms of mixing 
bowls and locked potting sheds? Of course, breaking the 
code can be part of the marital sport, at first. Once at break- 
fast, early on in our domestic life, my wife related a dream 
she had had the night before about going to the aquarium. 
"It was the oddest thing," she said. "The eels were cut into 
slices, pickled in aspic, and were lying in jars at the bottom 
of the tank." 

"Thank you," I said coldly, putting down my napkin and 
leaving the room. "I'm glad to know what you think of me 
after only eight months of marriage." 

When, all these years later, I told her about the Crete cave, 



Scones and Stones 

she Immediately wanted to speculate with me who the girl 
was __ that is, might have been meant to represent, for in the 
dream she was nobody I knew. We sorted through a list of 
local candidates, and I finally hit on a girl up the road from 
our place, a secret yen for whom might have been embodied 
in the dream. The permissive standards of today were here 
again reflected in the mild reaction of my wife, who took 
exception only to my taste. "Isn't she kind of dumb?" she 
said. 

"Not from the neck down,' 1 said I. 

And so it goes in a swiftly changing modern world for 
\vhich the censor as we've known him has become absolutely 
and utterly unsuited. What can one man do about it? Noth- 
ing, except add his voice to a swelling chorus of protest that, 
if strong enough, can ultimately alter the collective psyche, 
and make the hope of unseating this last of the bluenoses 
something more than just an empty dream. 



SCONES AND STONES 

(After reading "Parents and Children" "Men and Wives" 
"Daughters and Sons" and so on y by Ivy Compton-Burnett) 



"ALL THAT ECTOPLASM," the father said, 

"We won't have to hear that joke much longer," his six- 
year-old daughter said to her three-year-old brother. "Every- 
one will soon have color." 

"Not in their cheeks. Huddled indoors at their sets, all 
parents, all children. The upshot of everyone's having color," 
the father went on, testing the tensile strength of the apho- 
rism on which he had stumbled, "is that no one will have it." 
He flapped out his luncheon napkin like a white flag. 



Scones and Stones 

"They must have our antenna nearly up," the mother said, 
hearing overhead a succession of dull thuds. 

"But not so dull as the end product will be," the father 
said, assuming this common circuit of associations. Ellipsis 
was the hallmark here. 

Cook punted open the swinging door and dealt them plates 
of haddock from a tray, simultaneously removing soup in 
quantities almost as large as she had set before them. 

"I don't know what's eating this family," she said, such 
being her way of commenting on what it did not eat. 

"R.C.A. Victim," the boy murmured, licking clean a jel- 
lied scone. 

"You are clever with your tongue," the father observed 
sardonically, of this act. 

The mother made a sign of pleasure. 

"He will be elliptical," she said, evaluating rather what 
had been said. "He is referring to R.CA.'s losing to C.B.S. 
on the color thing." 

"The child does not speak distinctly," the father differed. 

"But I heard distinctly. The boy has made a mot of sorts, 
and you should not let your natural resentment stand in the 
way of your recognizing the fact." 

"Must you raise your voice?" 

"I do so in the cause of harmony. You love your children 
so much," the mother went on for the latter's benefit, "you 
will not have their cleverness come between you." 

"The child mouths his words." 

"What else is there to do with them?" the boy said. 

"The truth is growing clearer every day," the mother said. 
"He will be more elliptical than all of us." 

The girl swiveled a fist in a dry eye. 

"There, there, you are elliptical too. Is she not?" the 
mother prompted her husband. 

Pledged to understress, he shrugged one shoulder and 

*93 



Scones and Stones 

smiled In the girl's direction. This, though lacking the tex- 
ture of praise, restored the girl's normal indifference. The 
family ran as smoothly as most, their years of intimacy hav- 
ing quite anesthetized them to emotion. Nevertheless the 
mother turned to the children and blessed them with indi- 
vidual glances. 

"Precious," she said. 

"That is not the same as elliptical," the father said. 

"There!" the mother said, making him the beneficiary of 
this new remonstrance. "Your father's subtlety should be 
obvious." 

"It is, but whether it should be is another question," the 
boy said. 

"It looks as if he will be oblique as well!" the mother ex- 
claimed, veering freshly in these loyalties. 

The father glared into his plate, momentarily, as though 
he were an osprey and the fish alive. Now pride even more 
than the rules of the game forbade him to discharge his pique 
with his young in any other fashion than tangentially. He 
therefore turned from the haddock to his wife, and in the 
expectation of stinging her blurted, "I cannot bear children." 

"It is a function to which nature has perhaps better suited 
the woman," she answered fairly. 

Two workmen carried into the house something in a cabi- 
net of fumed oak, but the father averted his face as though 
they were rather bearing from it the corpse of literate dia- 
logue. 

"And so the coup de grace to what remains of conversa- 
tion in our time," he said. 

They spoke of this and that. Because of the door that was 
soon to close on civilized communion, and wishing to leave 
no residue of prior heat in their adjourning mood, the father 
strove to close the luncheon on a note of persiflage. 



Scones and Stones 

"Your mother does not understand me," he chaffered with 
that levity which may be after all the soul of wit. 

"Then suppose you do not talk with your mouth full," the 
boy gave answer. 

"Are you the father here?" 

"No, sir." 

"Then stop chittering like a ninny." 

The father rose and led the way into the living room, 
where, disposed in their accustomed chairs, they witnessed 
the installation of the set. One workman had remained to 
effect it. Lengths of wire lay about like some degree of briar. 

"So another trap is about to shut," the father said. 

"I thought we might not use the word in that sense," the 
daughter said. 

"Your father meant in the sense of snare," the mother said, 
looking at her. 

"Which is everywhere," the father said, looking at the son 
as well. 

The workman bolted on his knees about the polished floor. 
"By fall you will have an attachment for color," he said. 

"I shall feel none whatever for it," the father interjected 
swiftly, as if mere moments remained for nuance. 

"What does he feel?" the girl whispered. 

"Nothing," the boy said. "When I can talk, I shall call him 
Ice Cold Pop." 

"And when he is old, Epigrampa." 

"Now, now, your father is sound," their mother said. 
"Sound as a nut." 

"You can say that again," the girl retorted. 

The father made a truncheon of his Harpefs. "There will 
be no needless repetition," he said. 

"It will distract you," the workman said, in defense of 
the instrument it was his to install. 

295 



Scones and Stones 

"No more than the prospect already has," the father said. 

"A living must be made," the workman said. 

"And a life unmade." 

"A way of life. And a new way born," the workman said. 

"By some not able to bear it." 

"We talk again of bearing," the mother interposed, prising 
from her daughter's grasp a cutting tool not meant for play. 

"It is merely more surrender to material progress," the 
father said. "We worship the Golden Calf." 

"It is not the calf that is worshipped on television," the 
workman said. "Though that too is visible." 

The color drained from the father's face leaving a pallor, 
which in turn gave the illusion of draining from it; as though 
they had already heard a fragment from the instrument. 

"And for children? This imagery and this plane of refer- 
ence?" he demanded. 

"They must be torn away from the continuities which 
thrive at evening, and which magnetize them until then," 
the workman said. He inserted an extremity of wire into the 
machine and secured it there. "Whether the innovation is 
therefore a blessing or a bane is moot in many households," 
he said with a smile. Then he paused and rummaged in his 
hair. "Since setting foot in this house I speak increasingly in 
this way." 

"It is nothing but understatement," the mother said. 

"Restraint run wild, if I may say so, ma'am." The work- 
man rapped a knuckle on the cabinet. "But not here. In this 
medium, overstress." 

"And in the humor?" 

"Muscularity. In a diversion last evening one comedian 
said, My dog is sick, I should have given him asafetida.' And 
another better known replied, 'Asafetida made any differ- 
ence.' " 

The father nudged an ashtray a quarter of an inch to the 

296 



Forever Panting 

left, illustrating the anguish of cerebral types. But there was 
a sense of swift recovery. He had been evaluating what the 
workman had said about the household young, which had 
seemed to lay bare implications he had not realized in his 
own strictures. Credits and debits had been toted up, a bal- 
ance struck. 

"You say the children must indeed be torn from the sets?" 
he said, bowing his head and joining together the fat of his 
thumbs. 

"You don't even know they're in the house." The work- 
man plied a knob. "Ah, there we are. Puppets." 

As his wife went about drawing the shades, the father 
seemed to see the house in a new light. The children's faces 
were already transfigured. The resulting glow of warmth in 
him was so great as to move him momentarily to hypocrisy. 

"You were so good as to speak of the level of intercourse 
of all beneath this roof. Surely it's nothing new, understate- 
ment," he said modestly to the workman. 

"Oh, no," the other answered, refining a nebulous image. 
"But not everyone can lay it on with a trowel." 



FOREVER PANTING 

STILL, I have a certain ramshackle charm. So that when I 
took her young hands in mine across the restaurant table she 
did not immediately withdraw from my grasp, nor from the 
larger,, bolder plan of action, which I now proceeded to 
sketch out for her benefit. 

"What I'm going to do is, I'm going to declare moral 
bankruptcy," I said. "I mean, we keep using the term in that 
sense, why not follow it through? When a man can no 



Forever Panting 

longer discharge his financial obligations, we let him off the 
hook. Why not when he can no longer meet his ethical ones? 
I have too many emotional creditors hounding me, I tell yon! 
That's all there is to it. A man simply cannot meet all the 
demands made on his resources, simply cannot be expected 
to keep his books balanced. It's too much. Everybody keeps 
talking about moral bankruptcy but nobody does anything 
about it. Well, I'm going to. I'm going to declare it. I'm 
going into receivership. I'm going to pay everybody so much 
on the dollar." 

"In other words, Duxbury," she said, calling me by my 
last name as people affectionately do, "you want to tell your 
wife about us." 

U I do," I said, "and I've spoken those words only once 
before in my life." 

She gazed thoughtfully into her post-luncheon mint, stir- 
ring the icy sludge around a bit with her straw. 

"How will you go about it?" she asked, at length. "I mean, 
how 7 much will you pay everybody on the dollar, as you 
put it?" 

I frowned into my third brandy as I mentally reviewed the 
scale of figures I had already more or less worked out. Pro- 
claiming to the world that one is materially insolvent is a 
serious enough step; posting notice that one is no longer 
ethically liquid is an even graver one, especially if, as ap- 
peared to be true here, one is the first man in history to be 
doing so in a formal sense. The case would be precedent- 
setting. It might even become a cause celebre, with all the 
attendant widespread publicity that I must be prepared to 
shoulder and to shoulder alone. I therefore weighed my 
words carefully. 

"I figure I can pay fifty cents on the dollar," I said at last. 
"That will be all told and across the board. It will be divided 
up as fairly as I know how among the claimants. That is to 

298 



Forever Panting 

say, half of what is expected of this man on all fronts is really 
all there is of him to go around. That's all there is, there ain't 
no more." Here I paused to ask, "You understand that I am 
talking about the moral equivalent of money, in the mart of 
human relationships.' 5 She nodded, sucking up the bright- 
green cordial with lips pursed into a scarlet bud. "All right, 
then," I went on. "I shall continue to make my disbursements 
of loyalty, cooperation, et cetera at that level; I mean, I 
intend to stay in business as a human being. There will never 
be any question about that, nor that my wife and family will 
come first, my friends next, and then such things as obligation 
to community and whatnot, in the ever-widening circles of 
responsibilities as one sees them and prorated as I say." 

"What about your parents, Duxbury?" she asked, looking 
up. "You admitted you haven't been back home to see them 
in over a year. I don't like that in a man. A man should be 
thoughtful and considerate about things like that." 

"All right, I'll throw in another nickel for them, so to 
speak. I mean, I'll stretch a point in what I'll give, so the 
others concerned won't get less of my time and devotion. 
But that's my top figure. More than that can simply not be 
squeezed out of the orange." 

"What about me? What do I get?" 

"You get me. A man out from under at last, ready to make 
a fresh start free and clear. How's that? Ah, niacushla . . ." 

There was a silence, broken only by the hydraulic sounds 
of the last of the mint going up the translucent straw, which 
was finally put by with a dainty crimson stain on its tip. 
"Well, all right," she said. "I expect you'll want to get home 
early tonight and have it out. I'm glad I won't have to be 
there/' she added with a little shudder. "I just hope it won't 
be like the sordid blowups you can hear through the walls of 
apartments. The couple next door to mine actually throw 
crockery at each other." 



forever Panting 

"Love is a many-splintered thing. Heh-heh-heh. Ah, baby, 
the fun well -" 

"So why don't you call for the check?" 

I flagged the waiter, still brooding over the various aspects 
of this thorny problem, which I am sure vexes every man 
from time to time just how much of him there is to go 
around. "As for one's country," I said, "that's all well and 
good, but I doubt whether in peacetime a man owes it any 
more than is extorted from him in taxes to maintain God 
knows what proliferating bureaus and agencies going to make 
up what is still essentially an eleemosynary goddam govern- 
ment." 

"You don't have to swear to show how limited your vocab- 
ulary is," she said, reaching for her gloves and bag with a 
hauteur well supported by the patrician profile that had from 
the very first struck me to the heart. She is a tawny girl with 
long legs and hair like poured honey. In her brown eyes is a 
vacancy as divine as that left in the last motel available to the 
desperate wayfarer. My knees turned to rubber as I read the 
check and produced the forty clams necessary to discharge 
my immediate obligations. "Keep the change," I told the 
waiter in a voice hoarse with passion. 

"If you do have it out at home, then you'll be able to make 
it for dinner tomorrow instead of lunch, I expect?" she said, 
rising as the waiter swung the table aside for her exit. 

"Name the place," I said, trailing in her wake. 

"The Four Seasons is nice." 

When I got home, after the usual grimy and spasmodic ride 
on that awful railroad, my family were already at meat. My 
wife looked up from a gardening magazine she was reading 
as she ate, and waved cheerfully. Our sixteen-year-old son 
was paging through a motorcycle pamphlet over his own 
heaped plate, while his ten-year-old brother pored, fork in 

300 



Panting 

hand, over a comic book. The latter wore a switchman's cap 
with the visor behind. Dented beer cans were clamped to the 
heels of his shoes, and his bubble gum was on his wrist. It 
seemed as good a time as any to make my declaration. My 
eighteen-year-old daughter, a free spirit now apparently tour- 
ing Europe or something, would, I knew, heartily applaud 
my action, if I could only locate her. 

I helped myself to some food from a casserole keeping 
warm in the oven and joined them at the table. But I could 
not eat. Finally, I shoved my plate aside and said, "I have an 
announcement to make." 

There was a rustle of turned pages and a nod or two. 

"You have all no doubt read Ibsen's The Wild Buck? I 
said. "That anti-morality play, perhaps his best, in which he 
makes the point that we cannot always be pressed with the 
claims of the ideal. That we should not be forever dunned," 
I went on, consulting a frayed cuff on which I had jotted 
what I could remember of Relling's crucial speeches in that 
drama, "forever dunned for debts we cannot pay. Isn't that 
fine? Doesn't that make reasonable sense? All right, then. I 
take this to mean, therefore, that a person who has reached a 
certain point in the general drain on his resources may with 
impunity say, C I herewith formally declare myself bankrupt. 
I am going into moral receivership. Creditors, take note you 
will henceforth get so much on the dollar,* said creditors to 
include all those reasonably embraced by that corporate term 
^society,' on whose Accounts Receivable we are all per- 
manently enrolled: family, friends, community, and so on. 
Now then for the figure I am prepared to give you. The 
absolute maximum disbursement I can manage is, roughly, 
fifty cents on the dollar. Put in plain English, this means that 
in future I shall be half the husband I was, half the father, 
half the friend, and so on down the line. Well, there it is. 
What have you to say?" 

301 



Forever Panting 

My wife dropped her magazine and passed a plate of home- 
made rolls around the table. 

"Why, if she's what you want, go to her," she said. "Go 
away with her even, for a while, if it will help get 1 her out of 
your system." 

I rose and shoved my chair back with a force that sent it 
clattering to the floor behind me. 

"I wish you'd stop treating me as an individual in my own 
right," I exclaimed. "All of you! Nothing is more irritating 
than that, or more demoralizing. As though a man has to be 
humored like some damn kid!" With that I flung out of the 
room, slamming the door after me. 

My resolve to leave was by now quite firm. I marched to 
my bedroom and, pausing only long enough to stand modestly 
before a wall glass and say, "You ain't nuttin' but a hound- 
dog," I packed three bags, which I carried, forever panting, 
along the corridor and down the stairs to the vestibule. There 
I momentarily dropped my luggage to recover my wind. 

As I stood there, I sensed a footfall in the passage along 
which I had just come. Looking up the stairs, I saw my 
mother-in-law approaching, in velvet slippers and with the 
aid of her stout cane. Slightly indisposed, she had had a tray 
in her room, the door of which she had left open, as is her 
wont, so as not to isolate herself entirely from the life of the 
house. She paused at the head of the stairs and from under her 
white lace mobcap fixed me with a bright eye. 

"I could not help overhearing," she said, "and with all due 
apologies, I should like to remind you of one person you have 
overlooked in yoyr list of creditors, as you put it. Someone 
to whom you also owe something." 

"Who might that be, Mother Bunshaft?" I asked. 

"Yourself," she answered, smiling. 

"Ah, Mother Bunshaft," I said, "the longer you live with us 
the more your wisdom " 

302 



Forever Panting 

"Correction I think you mean the longer you live with 
me." The house is in her name for legal reasons (she owns 
it). "The longer you live with me, the more I find I have to 
tell you, it seems. Now I suggest you owe it to yourself to 
pause a moment and count the cost. Of a second establish- 
ment, which I assume is in your mind especially if we in- 
crease the cost of this one by starting to ask for rent again. 
The upkeep of two cars, the many other possessions bought 
on time. I expect we're quite the ticket out there in the big 
city" here she humorously cocked the tip of her stick at 
me and sighted along its length as along the barrel of a rifle, 
at the same time making that chucking noise out of the side 
of her mouth that once was used to make horses giddyap but 
now conveys the idea of hot stuff "but it might just pay us 
to take a good hard look at our bank balance, if any, our 
arrears with the loan company Just a minute, I'm not 
finished/ 7 she called as I hurried out the front door without 
the bags. 

Well, that's how the cookie crumbles. It took very little 
probing to make clear the scale of living the other woman 
had in mind a single phone call from a public booth, in 
fact. Her response to my suggestion that we meet at some 
convenient Schrafft's or Stouffer's, instead of the Four Sea- 
sons, with all that nonsense about flaming skewers and tele- 
phones brought to the tables, alone did the trick. 

So that seems to be the point of this whole incident in a 
nutshell, its moral t you might say, which I pass along to any 
man contemplating the same course of action I was. Before 
you start declaring moral bankruptcy, make damn sure you're 
in good shape financially. 



JAMES THUKBER: 
THE COMIC PRUFROCK 

IT WAS on an evening in the late spring of 1938, at a banquet 
at the University of Chicago, while crawling around on my 
hands and knees under the speakers' table looking for Ford 
Madox Ford's glasses, that I first knew I was going to write 
an article on Thurber. It was a moment of murk and strain: 
I remember the women just standing there, and getting in my 
hair, most of which hung over one eye. I suppose there have 
been occasions when I looked even more like a Thurber draw- 
ing; but there has been none when I felt more like one. I 
have had this queer feeling of looking like a Thurber draw- 
ing on four distinct occasions in my life, counting the eve- 
ning I failed to find Ford Madox Ford's glasses or "glosses" 
as he said when he promptly singled me out from among the 
group of intellectuals as probably the ideal man to whom to 
report the loss of spectacles. The other times were: once 
when turning around to glare at a woman talking behind me 
at a concert; once while crawling around on the floor of a 
cold garage looking for a cotter pin while the neighbor lady 
whose car I was presumably going to fix, when I found it, 
hung around; and once reciting "No, no, go not to Lethe, 
neither twist wolPsbane" in a drug store to a girl who I found 
had turned to the menu. 

I am not sure what poetic sensitivity is, but I am practically 
certain Thurber has got it. Though artists work in different 
forms there is a contemporary tissue which connects them, 
and the things they have in common spiritually are greater 
than the differences among them technically. Thurber has 



James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock 

more in common with modern poets than, for instance, he 
has with any other present-day humorist you might mention. 

I do not know whether the critical landlords of Axel's 
Castle our customary symbol for Symbolism list him 
among the occupants or not, or whether they are aware he 
is on the premises. It is that house (to call a partial roll) 
through w r hose silences can be heard the interminable scratch- 
ing of the pen of Proust, and the sad sound of his cough. 
Here Prufrock, lost in the fumes of introspection, lay damned 
in the late afternoon. From its window Yeats saw the centaur 
stamp in the black wood, and Joyce labored mightily in its 
towers. If fancy and the imagination and "subjective" as op- 
posed to "objective" reality is the emphasis we are talking 
about, then Thurber can certainly be included. The filaments 
of individual sensibility are seldom more sharply wrought, or 
more constantly manifest, than in his work. The psychologi- 
cal nuance is rarely more intricately drawn, even in those tidy 
sketches in which he is reducing it to absurdity. His inner 
states and private convolutions are, if not as profound, as 
skillfully projected as any. He may be least of the family 
indeed perhaps just a quizzical lodger cutting up in some re- 
mote corner of the premises but this is the address all right. 

It is hard to think of anyone who more closely resembles 
the Prufrock of Eliot than the middle-aged man on the flying 
trapeze. This preoccupied figure is Prufrock's comic counter- 
part, not in intensity of course, but in detail. There is, for 
instance, the same dominating sense of Predicament. The same 
painful and fastidious self-inventory, the same detailed anxi- 
ety; the same immersion in weary minutiae, the same self- 
disparagement, the same wariness of the evening's company. 
And the same fear, in summary, that someone in Thurber's 
case a brash halfback or maybe even a woman will "drop a 
question on his plate." Prufrock, taking stock of himself, con- 

305 



James Thurber: The Comic Prttfrock 

eludes that he is no Prince Hamlet, "nor was meant to be"; is 
merely one who will do 

To swell a progress, start a scene or two. 

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous 
Almost, at times, the Fool. 

Thurber tells us that he is no Lord Jim, nor any character 
whatever out of Conrad. Among the southern seas none 
guessed his minor doom, though he sat in tropical cafes 
twitching his jaw muscles, in the attempt to look inscrutable. 
Prufrock in his lush fantasies "heard the mermaids singing, 
each to each." And concludes, "I do not think that they will 
sing to me." Among the seductive islands Thurber found no 
Tondelaya, or any facsimile thereof, off ering to go to pieces 
with him. Of the women he is terse: 

They tried to sell me baskets. 

If Eliot symbolizes his spiritual intricacies in terms of 
mythological beings, so that we get the Eumenides lurking, 
at last, behind a curtain in an English drawing room, Thurber 
can personify his own modest nemeses in figures as concrete, 
always afraid he is "being softly followed by little men 
padding along in single file, about a foot and a half high, 
large-eyed and whiskered." This ability to project the fanci- 
ful enables him to get pretty much the effect of poetry itself. 
The banquet I mentioned stands out in my memory for one 
other thing. It is a phrase in Carl Sandburg's talk: "Those who 
write the poetry of an age, whether in verse or prose . . ." 
Enough. If poetry is an essence produced by the discharge of 
the contents of the Leyden jar of the nervous system (and it 
most certainly is not but at this point we want one of those 

306 



James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock 

definitions which serve chiefly to prove that poetry can't be 
defined) then Thurber has produced poetry in at least a few 
cases. Poetry is where you find it, and I find it in The Black 
Magic of Barney Holler, one of the best of those exquisite 
little sketches which see more drafts than many poems. You 
will remember it as the account of the caretaker whom storms 
follow home, whom Thurber suspects of trafficking with the 
devil and exorcises by incantations of Frost and Lewis Carroll. 
The title of Eliot's poem is ironic it is a "love song." It 
is certain that Prufrock never got around to asking his lady 
the question: the masculinity of this parched sophisticate 
seems specifically inoperative. In that other landmark of 
Eliot's early period, The Portrait of a Lady y the female is 
roundly satirized, but the narrator is singularly unable to cope 
with her; there is a "sensation of being ill at ease." Is there a 
sensation of which Thurber has given more repeated illustra- 
tion? The oppressed narrator of Eliot's poem has the feeling, 
after climbing the stairs, of having "mounted on my hands 
and knees." One can imagine what Thurber would have done 
with that, had he included it in his series in which he illus- 
trated famous poems. It will be observed that in all of the 
instances in which I felt like a Thurber drawing there were 
women around behind me, in front of me, and, most of all, 
above me. What contemporary disquiet has he caught here? 
The woman satirized in The Portrait of a Lady was trite, but 
she was alive and certainly operating conversationally, and 
the women lampooned in Thurber are alive and operating 
too, at their worst when they are a little too much like the pre- 
occupied men (like the woman who came up and announced 
to the man shrinking in the chair: "I have a neurosis"), at their 
best possessing a certain virility lacking in the male. They 
perch confidently on the arms of sofas, drag their men to 
bridge parties, drive cars well, are in the embalming game. 
The male is on the wane, corroded with introspection, de- 



James Tburber: The Comic Prufrock 

flated by all his own inefficient efficiency, without "strength 
to force the moment to its crisis," his love lyric in desuetude. 
There is a sketch in which Thurber does not want to go 
some place out some place, perhaps a bridge party or some- 
thing like that and he says he would rather stay home. 
"That's the place for a man to be anyhow home." It is not 
a long step from there to: "A man's place is in the home," a 
generalization the feminists of the hour might like to adopt 
as a battle cry. 

Anybody who would rather not throw a javelin because 
Babe Didrikson could probably throw it farther, which is one 
of Thurber's reasons, is in a bad way. In The Case Against 
Women Thurber lists the reasons why he hates them, not, of 
course, that we don't, by this time, know. The boneless batter 
of the famous drawings is of course a caricature; but a carica- 
ture of a sharp contemporary sensation. Maybe it is only the 
first bug-eyed bewilderment of man startled and dazed by the 
little helpmate's first brisk emergence into the wide world. 
It is to be hoped that such is the case and that the notorious 
Thurber male, subsiding, in bed and chair and at last on the 
rug, in various postures of anthropoid humiliation, is not a 
preview of the shape of things to come. 

There is another possible construction on the matter, inti- 
mated by Thurber himself, which, though not rich in con- 
solation, is a little more palatable to the male. Thurber quali- 
fies the often echoed forecast that we are going to pot, with 
the specification that man will go first. The cities in which 
he has so long conducted his business, contrived his morals 
and debauched his politics, and in which he has now grown 
futilely introspective, are to be taken over by the praying 
mantis and the steppe cat. But before that there will be an 
interlude in which the women will be in there pitching. That 
dwindling masculine first person singular who has not written 
a single amorous poem nearly as good as the famous "love 

308 



James Thurber: The Comic Prufrock 

song" in which Prufrock never got anywhere, will be in cir- 
cumstances over which it were perhaps better not to specu- 
late in too great detail. But woman's emergence, now dra- 
matic, can be expected to go on apace. She is already every- 
where in industry; she is in Congress, on the pulpit and, as has 
been noted, in the embalming game standing ready to com- 
mit us to the earth. Women live longer, too. Studying the 
newspaper accounts of forty-three people who got to be 
more than a hundred, Thurber notes that thirty-seven are 
women and six men, and four of them were written about 
because they died. And the women were reported as having 
celebrated the day by chinning themselves, riding in airplanes 
and performing other feats too depressing to mention. The 
female's retention of vigor, straight-forwardness and the posi- 
tive values is, perhaps, quite logical; for is she not more 
directly and intimately the custodian of life? It is Molly Bloom 
who closes the incredibly elaborate Ulysses, pulling the whole 
business back down to earth. 

"The poet of The Waste Land," writes Edmund Wilson, 
"is living half the rime in the real world of contemporary 
London and half the time in the haunted wilderness of medi- 
eval legend." Thurber too is half the time God knows where. 
"One's head may be stored with literature but the heroic 
prelude of the Elizabethans has ironic echoes in modern Lon- 
don streets and modern London drawing rooms." Reality in 
Thurber undergoes filterings and transmutations as curious 
and as abrupt. He deflates famous poems with cruelly literal 
illustrations, achieving bathos as jolting as Eliot's: 

When lovely woman stoops to folly and 
Paces about her room again, alone. 
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, 
And puts a record on the gramophone. 

39 



Ja?nes Thurber: The Comic Prufrock 

Confronted by details, moments, of that dull environment 
with which he is long weary of coping, he contrives his own 
little substitutions, and his transformer is always at work 
altering, to suit his fancy, the currents of experience. With 
characteristic self-deploration he admits to the inanity of 
many of the oddments that "slip by the guardian at the portal 
of his thoughts," but vouches for their tenacity. Thus 

A message for Captain Bligh 
And a greeting to Franc hot Tone! 

sung to a certain part of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, occu- 
pied him for some time. A connoisseur of mispronunciation, 
he was happy when a malapropping domestic called the ice- 
box "doom shaped," thus investing it with a quality which 
fascinated him for days, and by a similar alchemy exercised 
by Barney Haller, the caretaker already mentioned, there are 
warbs in the garrick, grotches in the wood and fletchers on 
the lawn -all details possessing a charm with which their 
real-life counterparts cannot compete. To make the transfor- 
mation complete, the maid has only to step on his glasses. 
Then do the flags of South American republics fly over the 
roofs of Manhattan banks, cats cross the street in striped bar- 
rels, old women with parasols walk through the sides of 
trucks, bridges rise "lazily into the air like balloons." "The 
kingdom of the partly blind," he assures us, jesting of his 
affliction, "is a little like Oz, a little like Wonderland, a little 
like Poictesme." He never drives alone at night "out of fear 
that I might turn up at the portals of some mystical monas- 
tery and never return." He has but to do that, and the parallel 
with Eliot is complete. 

Now all these qualities in Thurber serve to illustrate again 
this fact: that attitudes, details, elements, are intimated in 

5/0 



Ja?nes Thurber: The Comic Pnifrock 

poetry before they are widely apparent in the general con- 
temporary consciousness, or in popular literature. The truly 
original poet is often prescient. Swinging the classics, as our 
jazz bands now do, the fluid technique of shuttling arbitrarily 
between the past and the present without transition, of which 
novelists and playwrights now freely avail themselves, our 
pleasure in mimicry, all these and so many less tangible ele- 
ments in the climate of our time were contained and fore- 
shadowed in a single poem which was called senseless when 
it first came out. Poetry is sometimes an antenna by which the 
race detects actualities at which it has not quite arrived. 

The contempt of the man with both feet on the ground for 
the artist with one of them in fantasy is familiar. Such a con- 
dition is regarded as a schizoid separation from reality. 
The answer is of course, simply, what do you mean by 
reality; and the point is an important one. I referred, with 
rather loose whimsicality I suppose, to Thurber as jester in 
Axel's Castle, and his work may be a rivulet running "indi- 
vidual sensibility" off into a kind of reductlo ad absurdum 
not that some of the serious exponents of Symbolism haven't 
already done so. But whatever the excesses of Symbolism may 
have been, it has not only made a notable contribution to 
modern literature but by its emphasis on subjective experi- 
ence has helped us to a richer idea of what "reality" is. Just 
as poetry and profit are where you find them, reality is what 
you make it. The angle of refraction according to the per- 
ceiving psyche is always there, and the individual's extracting 
from the world around him constitutes an experience that 
is itself a reality; a point which modern artists have been 
trying to make for over a generation. It is to be admitted that 
Symbolism, falling prey to another of our many false dualisms 
in its reaction to Naturalism, has sometimes gone to excesses, 
but we may hope, as Edmund Wilson suggests, that some- 

3" 



Exploring Inner Space 

thing of a healthier balance will be derived from a synthesis 
of the two. 

To get back a moment, before closing, to Thurber, whom 
we have left peering into the abyss, on all fours no doubt: 
We do not know that art and life will continue in the direc- 
tion which he, in his peculiar way, has brought to such sharp 
emphasis. We do not know how events and literature, in their 
endless and intricate interaction, will condition the man of 
tomorrow, whether to more evaporating introversions or to 
new expansions. We know that the large pendulum which 
enables us to tick our little ticks keeps swinging. Prophecy is 
an easy and a dangerous thing, for thou knowest not which 
shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall 
be alike good. And as to women, if the Curtain is one day 
coming down, well, Thurber's own prediction that they will 
outlast men only bears out once more the fact that men, more 
sensitive organisms, are pioneers in everything, even decline. 
And we need not vex ourselves with the illusion that the sexes 
were ever anything but opposed (the literature Thurber 
might illustrate going back to Genesis "The woman whom 
thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did 
eat")t nor face our future oppressed by the extraneous con- 
sideration that it will be survived by gnats. 



EXPLORING INNER SPACE 

(The University of Michigan 
Hopwood Lecture, 1969} 

THERE is MORE than a faint element of imposture in my stand- 
ing before you in the role of lecturer, since to discharge that 
function creditably is to play the critic, which is not at all my 

312 



Exploring Inner Space 

speed or bag, as one should perhaps say today. I suppose it's 
hard to know what to say about my books. Some think of 
them as caricatures of the white race. Others assign them to 
their classes as suggested or required reading, and even ap- 
prove them as subjects for dissertations. All of which I think 
vindicates me by bearing out what Fve been saying in those 
books all along that everything is going to hell in a hand- 
bucket. 

At least some of you out there are scholars, full-blown or 
in embryo, and I'm sure you're thinking to yourselves, possi- 
bly even murmuring to one another, "This character will talk 
for half an hour about the creative process, or some such, 
without telling us a damned thing." I shall not disappoint you. 
You may return to your classrooms and studies confirmed in 
the knowledge that what goes on in an artist's head is some- 
thing about which he hasn't the slightest personal compre- 
hension, but is the proper concern of scholars, and after I 
have returned home you can write crisp notes to the Hop- 
wood Committee saying, "Why do you invite cows to analyze 
milk?" 

Nevertheless, I can ask intelligent questions, furnishing an- 
swers of whatever calibre. Simply as readers we periodicaDy 
wonder, by way of taking inventory^ what the literature of 
the hour is up to. We know what our scientists are up to: 
one mechanistic triumph after another. By contrast, our artists 
grow more determinedly humanistic, private and, as the cries 
of lay protest occasionally have it, obscure. That the twain 
will never meet, that the gulf grows ever wider, is a concern 
of course formally expressed by C. P. Snow, articulating for 
all of us with his idea of the two cultures, the scientific and 
the intellectual running full-speed away from each other, or 
at best in irreconcilable parallels. Still, it's important to re- 
member that over the long haul men do work together 
whether they work together or apart, as Robert Frost re- 



Exploring Inner Space 

minds us in the poem The Tuft of Flowers. In the distant 
future, or even now in some larger perspective, there may be 
somewhere an ultimate fusion of the two seemingly hope- 
lessly divergent elements. For the time being, I r have at least 
mentioned Frost and Snow in the same breath, which will 
have to suffice us as a token unity. 

The rickety spirits and demoted egos whose inner space 
our best novelists navigate in the name of characterization 
are very good counterparts of our own, and whether we 
shall be vicariously enlarged by our astronauts' exploration 
of outer space, or merely shrunk into punier earthlings by 
contrast, depends on our individual makeup. There will cer- 
tainly, in any case, be further feats to leave us magnified or 
dwindled, for make no mistake about it: our arrival on the 
moon and our departure for points more distant will without 
a doubt be counted among the scientific miracles of this 
century of the common cold. The humanistic scruple re- 
mains, "Should we spend all that money on trips to other 
astral bodies when there's such a heap still to be done on this 
one?" Should man go to the moon? The romantic instinc- 
tively replies, "Yes. He must have been put on this earth for a 
purpose." 

In any event to get this so-called lecture in orbit it's 
fair to say that literature has found the exploration of pri- 
vate consciousness and even unconsciousness, which I am call- 
ing inner space, enough of a challenge. It is perhaps just as 
well that our poets and novelists and you can name them 
for yourselves concern themselves principally with the 
microscopic half of the full human reality, leaving the tele- 
scopic to science. It would take a combined Homer, Milton, 
and Shakespeare to dream our cosmological dream in an epic 
commensurate with the commonplaces of the front page. But to 
think of the "two cultures'* as absolutely polarized is too neat, 
too slipshod, as I tried to say a moment ago. That men do work 

3*4 



Exploring Inner Space 

together whether they work together or apart, that there are 
points of similarity between such seemingly irreconcilable 
endeavors as the artistic and the scientific, is suggested by our 
very attempts to understand the one in terms of the other. 
Some of you may remember how, in the first blush of Vir- 
ginia Woolf s vogue, terms like "rain of atoms" and "atomic 
dance" were applied to the minute and seemingly random 
thoughts, associations, and particles of memory out of which 
she constructed, particular by particular, the evocations of 
individual consciousness that in turn collectively made up, for 
her, a novel Rereading her now, as I recently did, one would 
be lured a step farther into the metaphor and say that she 
was bent on a kind of psychic fission, which releases the 
energy of the association. 

Edmund Wilson first elucidated Proust to us as the literary 
counterpart of Einsteinian relativity, with time so clearly a 
fourth dimension as to make S*wanris Way end: ". . . re- 
membrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular 
moment; and houses, roads, avenues are fugitive, alas, as the 
year." If Joyce's stream of consciousness is no stream at all but 
precisely the sequence of disconnected droplets it appears on 
paper, it may suggest to us that psychic energy flows as 
quantum physics tells us physical energy does, not con- 
tinuously but in individual packets. A Joycian association a 
Planckian erg-second? Why not? And as though this were 
not enough, even as a humble humorist scurrying back to his 
proper depth, I might define the self-disparagement in which 
modern humor almost exclusively consists as the human 
counterpart of what is known in atomic physics as the loss of 
unstable carbon isotopes and if that doesn't hold the boys 
on the academic quarterlies, I don't know what will. If from 
here on in I talk about myself a lot, you will understand that 
I do so out of insecurity. There goes an unstable carbon 
isotope already! 

3*5 



Exploring Inner Space 

I thought that in the remaining minutes I might perform a 
kind of public exercise aimed at showing how the writer can 
only explore the inner space of his characters by perceptively 
navigating his own, and that this, and this alone, results in 
anything worth calling characterization. To say that litera- 
ture illuminates life is platitudinous enough, and I haven't 
come nine hundred miles to sock that apocalypse to you; but 
it may be instructive to suggest how the sheer practice of 
fiction as such can sometimes help the practitioner understand 
what he is writing about, that is to say living with, and to 
conduct the experiment by recalling an incident that recently 
befell me or rather, to focus the point down to where I 
want it, a character I ran foul of, and he me, and whom I 
misjudged completely at first and did not comprehend until I 
had spent some time trying to put him down on paper, though 
he may have had my number from the beginning on a some- 
what more primitive level. 

The purpose of fiction is still, as it was to Joseph Conrad, 
to make the reader see. That is our quarrel with television, is 
it not? That it is not visual enough? It cannot make us see 
Jeeves, the butler, entering the room, "a procession of one." 
It cannot make us see the woman in Dorian Gray whose 
dresses always looked as though they had been designed in a 
rage and put on in a tempest. It cannot make us see the 
character in Ring Lardner who served what he thought was 
good Scotch though he may have been deceived by some 
flavor lurking in his beard. Least of all can it ever hope to be- 
gin to make us see anything like the young girl in Elizabeth 
Bo wen's The Death of the Heart, who "walked about with 
the rather fated expression you see in photographs of girls 
who have subsequently been murdered, but nothing so far 
had happened to her. . . ." Such wild rich subtleties require 
transmission from one mind to another via the written word 



Exploring Inner Space 

upon the printed page, and remain beyond the power of the 
boob-tube to convey. 

The task I recently set myself was to make the reader see 
and now for the next few minutes to make you see a 
character who was nothing if not flamboyantly vivid on the 
merely visual plane in real life. I was prepared for him by 
my wife, whom I saw, as I came home one evening, waiting 
for me at the front door, not with a smile of greeting but 
somewhat grimly, her arms folded on her chest, holding in 
one hand a magazine that she had rolled into a club. 

"Wait till you see this one," was her first remark after my 
bestowal of the greeting kiss, and something in her tone made 
me know exactly what she meant, and made me hurry on 
past her into the house and head straight upstairs for my pre- 
dinner bath. Scars left by hospitalities recently extended to 
my fourteen-year-old son's friends were an aid to the instinc- 
tive understanding that this elliptical opening referred to the 
latest specimen he had brought home, in the way of an over- 
night guest. "Remember the last one?" my wife pressed on, 
close at my heels. 

I did Indeed. This was a thirteen-year-old character who 
excoriated the false values my generation had given his, and 
who expressed his disapproval of bourgeois criteria by keep- 
ing his chewing gum in his navel. He believed In the abolition 
of money. Not that he conclusively Infected my son with 
any of those iconoclastic notions. I still keep missing dollar 
bills and an occasional fin from my wallet just the same. "So 
cheer up," I said to my wife, summarizing the episode briefly 
In those terms as I hurried down the passage to the bedroom. 
"Things aren't always as bad as they seem." 

"And the one before that?" 

Him I remembered too, him Indeed. Lad who brought a 
gerbil. Lad who also believed in the primacy of Instincts, and 
who pursuant thereto got up some rime during the night and 

3*1 



Exploring Inner Space 

ate all the breakfast Danish, and who in his freedom from the 
tyranny of material possessions inadvertently walked off with 
one of my derby hats. 

"Well, when you get a load of this one/' said my wife, 
"you'll wish you had either of them back, if not both. 77 

"I love the way you talk in italics," I said, throwing a fond 
smile over my shoulder as we sped down the passage toward 
the bedroom. 

There I had a moment to catch my breath and get my 
bearings, the dinner my wife was preparing requiring, pres- 
ently, her attention in the kitchen. But it was only a moment. 
I was pulling off my clothes and flinging them in every direc- 
tion in my haste to get into the tub before hearing anything 
else that might qualify the peace in which I planned to luxu- 
riate there, for a bit, when the door I had shut behind me 
opened and she reappeared, again nursing the cudgel She 
tapped it mysteriously in a palm as she sat down on the bed 
to resume the interrupted dossier. (What such a cylindrical 
elongation might mean to a housewife I have no idea, having 
lost rny taste for symbolism with the two steel balls the crazy 
captain in The Came Mutiny kept rolling in his palm.) 

"We're used to kids who live with one or the other of their 
parents, right? Well, this one doesn't live with either of his. 
Oh, he's with the mother technically, because she has cus- 
tody of him, but he only goes there to sleep because he can't 
stand her, while his father can't stand him. So he likes to farm 
himself out to other people." 

"Abrogation-of-the-family-pattern bit, eh? And must you 
speak in italics all the time, dear? It gives a man such a sense 
of stress." 

"The father," she continued, crossing her legs, "says the 
mother lost the toss, so let her see to him. That's how he 
puts the custody decision. Apparently this one likes to sleep 
with the phonograph going he J s brought along an album 



Exploring Inner Space 

of some group called The Burning Bananas that'll make you 
hanker after the gerbil days and is said to make passes at 
his school teachers." I cleared my throat, kicked my shoes 
about, and in general made as much noise as possible in order 
to hear as little of this information as I could before gaining 
the safe haven of the bathroom. "Now, as to the father, he's 
currently shacked up with some cookie half his age in a 
cottage by the beach. She's about twenty, and models for " 

I sprang into the bathroom, clapped the door shut and 
turned the tub faucets up full-blast, Instantly cutting off all 
further data. I lolled as best I could in the promised warmth, 
for five minutes, perhaps ten. She was waiting for Hie when 
I emerged. 

" and models for these.* 7 

She opened the magazine and exhibited a picture of the 
baggage the father was knit up with. I pored over it as she 
held it out for my inspection, nodding as I dried my shoul- 
ders with the towel. It showed a girl of the age specified, 
posing at the water's edge in a polka-dot diaper and nothing 
more half a bikini. I set her up in a small waffle shop in the 
east Fifties, read aloud to her evenings from my favorite 
authors, and in general exposed her to something better than 
was intimated by the evidence in hand. 

"A face that could launch a thousand ships, all right," I 
murmured, dropping the tow r el on a chair. <f To say nothing 
of the topless towers of Ilium." 

"You don't ask how I got this magazine. Aren't you cu- 
rious? Well, Mike that's your guest's name, Mike Hackett 
carries it around with him to show people. As though it's 
something about his father to be proud of" 

"Stop talking in italics'' 

A knack for dramatic construction will have been dis- 
cerned in my narrator. Nothing more displayed this gift than 
the manner in which she now inserted the keystone in her 

3*9 



Exploring Inner Space 

expository arch. Setting the magazine down on a table, she 
waited until I had finished extracting a clean pair of shorts 
from rny bureau drawer, then yet a moment while I drew 
them on. Then she said: 

"So that is what the father is lollygagging around with, 
leaving it to other people to raise that." She pulled aside 
a corner of the curtain and pointed down into the yard. 
I stepped to the window to look out. 

I saw an Old Testament prophet dressed in loose-fitting 
vestments of muslin, or perhaps hopsacking, haranguing my 
attentive son. A lighted cigarette hung in one corner of his 
mouth, flapping briskly as he spoke. He talked with apparent 
authority, judging from the rapt, nodding concentration he 
received. He seemed to be denouncing something, . possibly 
the garage against which he slouched, because once or twice 
he poked a thumb at it over his shoulder, as though he 
opposed it on some ground or other, possibly as symbolic of 
something he must deny his personal approval such as the 
two cars it normally houses. Presently, and rather abruptly, 
the diatribe ceased, and the two gazed about them at the 
waning day. The prophet drummed the side of the garage 
with the palms of his hands. Then he took a last drag on the 
cigarette and snapped it into the shrubbery. 

"Well," I said, turning from the window, "we can't judge 
all our young people by the behavior of most of them. But 
what's with the long hair? I thought that was on the way 
out." 

"Huh!" 

I swam into a pullover shirt of bleeding Madras, paused 
at the glass to brush my displaced hair, and then from the 
closet selected a pair of mulberry slacks. Leaning against a 
wall with folded arms, much in the manner of the prophet 
against the side of the garage, my wife coldly watched these 

320 



Exploring Inner Space 

sartorial preparations. My feet I slipped into a pair of white 
calfskin Belgian casuals. 

"So you say his father won't have him around. It's prob- 
ably his way of atoning for his adultery. Denying himself 
the pleasure of his children." 

"Oh, will you stop being perfect!" my wife snapped with 
unaccustomed zest. "Nothing is more irritating than that. 
And all that I-would-never-sit-in-judgment cool is really a 
form of holier-than-thou, you know." Then she began slowly 
to pace the room. "But how to handle the boy is the prob- 
lem now. The thing is, he doesn't let on his old man won't 
have any part of him. His story is that he's there with him 
all the time, that they're real pals, go for rides together in 
the father's Porsche roadster and what not. Sloppy told me 
the real dope on the side that the old man hauls off on 
him whenever he shows up. So we play dumb about that." 

"All in all then, what the boy seems to need is some good 
normal family life. Let's give him a little of that, shall we?" 
I said, signalling that I was ready to go down. 

"All right, but one thing. Don't go being incomparable at 
table. Nothing confuses children more than that. It upsets 
them. They don't understand it, and so they resent it. So 
lay off the savoir faire for tonight, shall we? the style?" 

Hardly. Standards must be upheld, a tone set at all costs, 
that setting, in turn, an example. That was especially im- 
portant for those hailing from environments so lamentably 
lacking in it as that of which I had just been vouchsafed a 
glimpse. One must put one's best foot forward at all times. 

Proof of how the grossest origins may be transcended lay 
allegorically in wait for us in the very soup to which we sat 
down four cups of that vichyssolse whose genesis in the 
lowly potato of peasant France may be forgotten In the 
elegant restaurants (and fine homes) in which we sip It. I 
opened the table talk on just that point, in a properly oblique 

321 



Exploring Inner Space 

and subtle fashion of course. We were disposed round a 
circle of gleaming marble set with snowy napery and heredi- 
tary plate, the prophet on my right, Skippy on my left, and 
my wife visible across from me above a floral centerpiece. 
Her lips delicately puckered to a spoonful of her soup, she 
watched the boys drink theirs, not to say listened to them, 
for they made hydraulic noises as they fed. "You may pick 
up your cups if you wish/' she said, addressing to both boys 
an assurance aimed principally at the prophet, whose hair 
was hanging in his soup. 

"You like this?" Skippy asked him. 

"Yar's like groovy. But whasssat like bee-bees?" 

u We like to float a few grains of caviar in it," I said. 
"Gives it a certain zing, don't you think? Tell me," I con- 
tinued in a pleasantly rambling fashion, "has anybody here 
been to that new diner on the Post Road yet? Teddy's. I 
dropped in there for a hamburger the other day and noticed 
something on the menu that struck me as funny. Among the 
desserts was listed a Jello du Jour. I thought that rather 
amusing." 

"Kina flavor's that, man?" 

I opened my mouth to explain, but a terse headshake from 
my wife persuaded me to shove along to other matters. The 
subject of mothers somehow came up, and I noticed a play 
of pained grimaces cross the prophet's face. A reference to 
his father, however, brought a broad smile to it. "He's got 
this cool place on the water," he related. "Man, you get up 
mornings and jump right in. Then he takes me for rides in 
his Porsche. He's got a Porsche that's like really where it's at." 

No one taking as sacred the obligation to evolve the pro- 
gressive refinement of sensibility of which Henry James was 
so exquisitely a stage, now restated as Pierre Teilhard de 
Chardin's principle of "complexification" ~ will ever unreal- 
istically blind himself to the impediments everywhere await- 

322 



Exploring Inner Space 

ing this long and uphill climb. The struggle to elevate our 
guest's temper was beset at every turn by a commensurate 
threat: I mean the decline of our host's. For the next quarter- 
hour we heard little but paeans of praise to the prophet's 
father, deluded as we know. He told of waterside sport (with 
or without Miss Twin Peaks was never said), of camaraderie 
in the open Porsche and convivial hands of rummy. Through- 
out the encomium, the prophet sat hunched over his plate 
with his hands around it, as though it were itself the steering- 
wheel of a motor car in which he and, indeed, we all were 
traveling at high speed, his hair streaming behind him like a 
witch's instead of depending like a beagle's ears into his food. 

The conversation at some point turned to hippies, and their 
ironical migration to Boston. 

"You think they're like the early Christians, Pop?" Skippy 
asked. "You buy that?" 

"I do indeed/' I said. "And I would like to see the parallel 
completed by having them thrown to the lions. If not the 
Kiwanians. Fix both sides." 

"The idea is to live as though every day is Christmas, 
right?" 

"Right. And dress as though every day is Hallowe'en. 
Where did you get that chiropracter's tunic and those bare 
feet?" He had been given dispensation to come to the eve- 
ning board unshod, in deference to his guest's state. 

"Timothy Leary's got charisma," said the prophet con- 
tentiously. 

"Aw, I'm sorry to hear that," says I. "He certainly doesn't 
look well. I hope he's taking something for it." 

The prophet shot a look into the kitchen over his shoulder. 
"Like I have some beer? My father lets me have it." 

"Mine doesn't let me. But there are plenty of soft drinks 
out there," I said, seeing he hadn't touched his milk. "Coke, 
Seven-Up, Like. Ever had Like? You might like like Like." 

323 



Exploring Inner Space 

My wife was noting that he had also, in all this time, 
scarcely touched his food, since the soup. "Don't you like 
lamb chops?" 

"Well, no, I don't seem to care much for chops of any 
kindJ 1 

"Ma}7be he'd like a karate chop," I said, looking into my 
wine glass. 

There was no doubt I was being worn thin. The odds 
seemed too great, at least so far. We had by midnight not 
discernlbly evolved. Indeed, the backslidden state appre- 
hended above increasingly marked the scene. The hour found 
rne hammering my pillow and hissing the name of the 
Nazarene into it at the sound, issuing faintly but remorse- 
lessly from the boys' bedroom, of the Burning Bananas. The 
struggle for men's minds was not going at all well. Perhaps 
a battle must be granted as lost while bearing the war in 
mind, I tossed onto my back with a fresh oath as the vocalist, 
apparently pursuing a technique of singing the "words" of 
a song other than that being performed by the instrumen- 
talists, belted out: "Atsa mah wah dig muh baby, lemme rock 
ya frunks!" or some such. 

I sprang out of bed and thudded down the passage to the 
other bedroom. I snapped off the light, switched off the 
machine, and barked, "O.K., that's it. That wraps it up, know 
what I mean? No more playing, talking, nothing. Good 
night!" 

This night's sleep was a sequence of snoozes from the next 
of "which I awoke to the murmur of voices below my cham- 
ber window. Leaning out of which I saw them sitting on the 
doorstep leading to the flagstone terrace. They were both 
smoking cigarettes, and the prophet was sucking on a bottle 
of Lowenbrau. 

\ suppose my manner, as I thundered down the stairs again 
in the Belgian casuals, resembled that of the movie actor 

3*4 



Exploring Inner Space 

Franklin Pangborn, whose thirty years of apoplectic fits still 
checker the Late Late Show. No later than this one, this was 
the Late Late Show too. They parted to let me storm down 
the stoop between them. I marched out to the terrace and 
wheeled to face them. 

"Now then. You will go back in there right in that 
house," I said pointing to it so there would be no mistake 
about which house was meant, "you will go back in there 
and get to bed. And if I hear one more peep out of either 
of you it'll be the razor strap. Now git!'* 

My kid skedaddled. The prophet, however, hung back a 
moment, gesturing with his free hand. "But like we couldn't 
sleep, so we just " 

I snatched the bottle from his grasp and flung it into the 
bushes, dealing a generous spray of foam about, and flecking 
us both with it. "Goddamn you, get in there!" With that, I 
drew my right foot back and let fly with all my might. 

We use the term "good swift kick' 7 with an everyday 
familiarity, as though delivering one were a regular occur- 
rence, whereas in fact most of us go to our graves without 
experiencing the solid satisfaction of doing so. This one was 
well planted. But in planting it, I lost my balance and sat 
down on the terrace with an impact at least equal to that 
felt in the prophet's case. Also, in finding its target my foot 
lost its slipper, one of the white Belgian casuals, which sailed 
an inch past his head, through the open doorway, and 
straight at my wife, who had by now been awakened by the 
ruckus and come down herself to see what was going on. She 
ducked just in time, the slipper spinning end over end into 
the room giving onto the terrace, which is the library, where 
it struck a far row of bookshelves with a flat splat and 
dropped to the floor behind an easy chair. "Son of a bitch!" 
I said, closing the generation gap. 

That did it. That turned the trick. The prophet from then 



Exploring Inner Space 

on was nice as pie. I set to work the very next day on a story 
about the incident, about how young people really do want 
a firm hand (if that's the mot juste); discipline; a sense of 
authority. But when I reached the turning point of the narra- 
tive, the crisis I've just described, something about it didn't 
ring right. Some sneaking doubt about my grasp of the 
prophet's motivation nagged me. It was his grin as he bade 
me goodbye, thanking me for my hospitality, that hung me 
up. Each time I reread my interpretation of the prophet's 
sudden shift of attitude, as exhibiting the masculine adoles- 
cent's need for the authority principle, it rang hollow. The 
grin became a laugh, remote but unnerving. The principle 
was true enough, but not in this case. Something told me it 
was not relevant to this story. The author himself did not 
quite dig what he was illuminating. 

I put it aside, and, as one often does, let the unconscious 
get in its licks. The badgering question on which the con- 
scious agenda remained stuck was: why had my central char- 
acter become nice as pie if not for the reason so far stated? 
Why had he come to like like me? The firm-hand theory 
didn't seem right in the exposition, any more than the best- 
foot-forward hypothesis. 

The key to his sudden change lay, of course, in his rela- 
tionship with his own father, so obviously that it is still a 
matter of embarrassment to me that light didn't break over 
me sooner. It broke, at any rate, in the form of an incident 
involving my own son and me, of no significance in itself; 
a minor traffic altercation between me and another motorist, 
in which he got decidedly the best of me. He had made 
what I thought a dumb move, for which I undertook to re- 
buke him with what I regarded as a rather neat thrust while 
we were both waiting for a green light. His riposte still 
makes me think of the cartoon of the prize-fight manager 
saying to his battered boxer between rounds, "The next time 

326 



Exploring Inner Space 

you think you see an opening, duck." Having sent his re- 
partee home, he shot away through the intersection and dis- 
appeared leaving my son, who was sitting in the front seat 
beside me, blushing a brick-red. I was startled to find how 
my humiliation stung him, until I remembered from my own 
boyhood how keenly a father's shame can become the son's. 
In the twinkling of a split second I had orbited all those 
memory-miles of inner space, and in that splinter of time my 
literary problem was illuminated. I understood what had 
made the prophet so happy. 

His boasts of companionship with his father were only a 
cover-up, a shell carefully concealing an inner hurt, a wound 
that throbbed anew with every fresh evidence of parental 
decency and familial integrity elsewhere, stilled only by any 
proof, again at last, that his own old man wasn't so bad after 
all, relatively speaking. The last thing he needed was the 
civilized domestic environment I had egotistically striven to 
supply. Confronted with such another hazard to his self- 
esteem, he had spent that whole damned evening, and then 
half the night as well, reducing it to the shambles his own 
private life had become; in particular, reducing me to a clod 
at least as bad as his old man, if not worse. He had proved 
or I had proved the truth of Mark Twain's remark, that 
there are few things in life harder to bear than the irritation 
of a good example. That example liquidated, he could get on 
with the business of behaving toward me with comparative 
decency. 

He still does, though it is now I who find the example 
hard to bear. I catch glimpses of him about town, always 
nodding politely to me and with a grin behind which lurks 
the gleam of cunning, the secret knowledge that I know 
what he knows. 

That is the story of how I restored one boy's faith in his 
father. Little wonder it remains unwritten! I had sat down 

527 



Exploring Inner Space 

to write it without the faintest idea that was what it was 
about. I had surmised it to be about something else alto- 
gether. Thus it was the practice of my craft that, ultimately, 
enabled me to understand the reality the craft was intended 
to illuminate. Light did not break as I sat at the typewriter. 
That's not what I mean. I simply mean that my struggle with 
the literary problem kept my mind and spirit open to the 
revelation when it came, in the shape of real persons, places, 
and things. 

To say that the story remains unwritten is to ignore its 
unexpected culmination in lecture form. It is in that form 
that I may now analytically equate my loss of heart for the 
narrative with the loss of my role in it as the hero. For the 
flash of illumination entailed, of course, my sudden switch 
to that of villain. In real life, the story with its transferred 
functions remains unresolved, since I keep seeing the putative 
villain, now its martyr. Indeed, I saw him only last week 
when he was once more an overnight guest, and this time I 
had to steel myself for the confrontation in quite another 
manner than in the original instance when my wife's exposi- 
tion had set up the drama to follow. Perhaps it is thus not 
a story after all, much less a novel, or a play, but the subject 
of a poem, and that, indeed, already written, put down not 
by a latter-day exponent of the suburban mores, or an in- 
terpreter of corroded metropolitan egos, but by the white- 
clad recluse of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, who a hundred 
years ago said: 

What fortitude the soul contains, 
That it can so endure 
The accent of a cowing foot. 
The opening of a door. 



328 



Peter De Vries is a former editor of POETRY 
magazine and is now on the. editorial staff of 
THE NEW YORKER. A member of the National 
Institute of Arts and Letters, he is the author of 
many widely acclaimed novels, including THE 
BLOOD OF THE LAMB; REUBEN, REUBEN; LET ME 
COUNT THE WAYS;MRS. WALLOP; and INTO YOUR 
TENT I'LL CREEP. He lives in Westport, Connecticut. 



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